June 2001

From University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Nonprofits, corporations can collaborate to improve environmental management

CHAPEL HILL -- A new breed of nonprofit and corporate leader is trading tension and distrust for collaboration to improve corporate environmental practices in significant and lasting ways, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say.

Their report, "Partnering for Sustainability: Managing Nonprofit Organization-Corporate Environmental Alliances," outlines factors that contribute to the most effective collaborations. It outlines their study exploring experiences and interactions -- both adversarial and collaborative -- between environmental nonprofits and corporations and the factors that determine success.

"These nonprofits and corporations are finding that by joining their substantial, complementary resources, they can achieve greater environmental protection and corporate profitability," said Dr. Dennis A. Rondinelli, Glaxo Distinguished International Professor of Management at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Rondinelli, also director of the Center for Global Research at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the business school's research and outreach arm, conducted the study with Kenan-Flagler doctoral student Ted London.

Traditionally, nonprofits and corporations address environmental issues through protracted and public conflicts, lengthy administrative processes in government agencies and costly litigation in the courts. Recently, a number of environmental nonprofits have teamed with corporations to launch a wide range of community and international environmental projects, Rondinelli and London wrote. These alliances focus on developing clean manufacturing and pollution prevention processes and technologies, exploring environmentally neutral or beneficial products and services and helping conserve natural resources and improve environmental conditions.

The World Wildlife Fund, for example, forged a partnership with Unilever to help save the world's fisheries. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is expanding its partnerships with businesses after successfully working with McDonald's to reduce fast-food waste and develop environmentally beneficial packaging. The Alliance for Environmental Innovation is helping market-leading U.S. companies develop methods that reduce environmental impact of their company's processes and behaviors, as well as those of their suppliers, competitors and consumers.

The Environmental Law Institute in Virginia works with businesses and communities to produce blueprints for sustainable development. The Forest Stewardship Council works with Home Depot, Lowes, Wickes Lumber and Andersen Corp. to promote sound forest management worldwide. Conservation International formed a partnership with Starbucks Coffee to use a new shade-grown coffee harvested from farms using agricultural methods that help protect tropical forests.

The goal of these and similar collaborative efforts is to promote environmentally sustainable development that allows people and organizations to pursue their current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

"Corporations, and especially the large multinationals that now dominate global business and trade, can be powerful forces for achieving sustainable development objectives...both in the United States and internationally," the researchers wrote.

Collaborations may take many forms and range in intensity, from corporate support for employee participation in a nonprofit's environmental activities to environmental awareness and education alliances to environmental management alliances, the two said. They studied dozens of collaborations to identify the most effective examples of nonprofit-corporate environmental management alliances. They interviewed team members from 16 such alliances to learn why they were successful.

In every case, they found that corporations effective alliances had adopted practices that exceeded regulatory requirements, that such practices were part of their overall business strategies and that the companies perceived and valued these practices as good corporate citizenship.

Key attributes for effective corporate partners included commitment and interest among key participants, methods for measuring results and the ability to get suppliers involved in making environmental improvements, Rondinelli and London said. Characteristics of effective nonprofit partners included credibility as legitimate, responsible and knowledgeable environmental groups, experience dealing with private companies, understanding how private enterprise works and the ability to deliver real value to the company through realistic, cost-effective and technically sound recommendations.

The study was funded with a grant from the Nonprofit Sector Research Fund (NSRF) of the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. The fund seeks to enhance both the quantity and quality of nonprofits. Since its inception in 1991, the fund has provided $7 million in grants to support more than 300 research projects.

Note: Rondinelli can be reached at 919-962-8201 or dennis_rondinelli@unc.edu. A copy of the report may be downloaded from the Kenan Institute Web site at http://www.kenaninstitute.unc.edu/CGBR.












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