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Many companies are working toward more sustainable business practices as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. There are numerous actions that a company can take to increase sustainability and reduce their environmental footprint. Some companies go beyond that model by partnering with selected non-profit organizations. Your company can not only “green up” its own business but also work to reduce the environmental damage caused by others. This article explores these efforts.

Environmental groups have the expertise

One way to capitalize on your environmental efforts and volunteerism is to partner with environmental non-profit experts. They know their region’s environmental issues, laws, and legislators. Additionally, they have staff and volunteers with top-notch skills in their own area of concern who can guide your company’s own environmental changes and add their leverage to your company’s efforts in the community.

Showing your company is serious

Greenwashing, in which a company makes public noise about token environmental efforts, is all too common. Consumers are becoming wary of what companies say: it takes credible action to win customers over. Working with a well-known environmental organization, through funding, partnerships, or encouraging your staff to volunteer with the organization, can help show your company’s commitment. Partnering isn’t enough by itself—a company has to show measurable success with its in-house CSR projects—but partnering is an excellent way to demonstrate your company’s actions on a bigger stage.

Working with environmental non-profits

There is an inherent sense of rivalry between the corporate world and environmentalism. For many activists, “corporation” is a dirty word, and many businesses see environmental concerns as obstacles to be overcome or circumvented. It doesn’t have to be that way. Businesses and environmental groups can work together when they both seek mutually beneficial goals.

Reach out to organizations that work with businesses

It’s best to start with groups that have a track record working with willing companies, such as:

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC): They take a holistic approach to their environmental work, from lobbying to business finance. They operate the Green Finance Center, which coordinates public and private sector funding for green business projects.

1% for the Planet: A coalition of businesses and environmental non-profits. They use a membership model: Business members commit to giving 1% of gross sales, in the form of money, in-kind donations and volunteers, to environmental non-profits. 1% for the Planet then provides advice and coordination to match businesses with organizations that share compatible views and goals. They certify the businesses’ work, raising credibility for the business and its CSR initiatives.

The Rainforest Alliance: Their focus is on fair trade, rainforest ecology, and transforming businesses. They offer customized sustainability solutions to business partners to help them find sustainable suppliers and transform their business practices.

The Nature Conservancy: Focused on climate change and preserving biodiversity. They also have a specific type of business partnership, offering both input on making businesses more sustainable and helping businesses better communicate to their target markets.

Meet activist challenges openly

Many companies have found it worthwhile to listen to and engage with their critics. When environmental activists criticize a company for unsustainable practices, the instinctive response is defensive: to “circle the wagons,” deny the charges, and hit back at the critics. There is often a better way. A prime example is the cooperation between Greenpeace, McDonalds, and Cargill. 

McDonalds used soy meal sourced from Cargill to feed their beef cattle. Greenpeace charged that Cargill grew their soybeans on land that was deforested to provide acreage, thus driving rainforest depletion. By buying the soy meal that Cargill produced in that way, McDonalds helped to make deforestation profitable.

McDonalds set up a cooperative project among themselves, Cargill, and Greenpeace, working together to find more sustainable ways for the companies to make a profit. They achieved reduced deforestation without harming either company’s bottom line.

There are many ways for companies to improve their sustainable business practices with integrity, while polishing their public images at the same time. Environmental groups are eager to work with businesses that sincerely wish to further Corporate Social Responsibility.