Coro’s Blog: On Purpose

6 benefits sustainability programs offer association member companies

Published on October 13, 2013

A series – How to build industry association sustainability programs
Part 3 of 6

sustain-industries-4The race is on! Who will develop the business and consumer models to enable 9 billion people to live on planet Earth with a good standard of living by 2050?

As discussed earlier in this series, sustainability mega-forces such as growing global population, climate change, resource scarcity and the rich-poor divide will forever change the business landscape. This series explores how industry and professional associations can help their members “future proof” their firms and careers through more sustainable business practices.

Leading companies realize they must do more than reduce their operational footprint. To be sustainable they will need to collaborate with peers and competitors to overcome the challenges ahead. And who better to forge this path than industry and professional associations? They are mandated to support the profitability, competitiveness and relevance of their members.

In earlier posts I talked about the benefits to industry and professional associations of developing member sustainability programs; and described a number of programs that associations can pursue to help members advance on this path.

But first steps first – how to get member buy-in? Industry associations are governed by their members. Priorities are set by members – initiatives are only pursued when the membership seeks association leadership on an issue. So, companies and their associations that want to advance the sector’s sustainability performance need to understand and “sell” to members the business benefits from collective action.

Here from my experience as an association board member, and from my research into Canadian industry association sustainability programs, are six benefits businesses can expect:

Six member benefits from industry sustainability programs

1. Gain critical business insights. An association program can help members identify and focus on critical business areas to improve their performance. Associations can monitor emerging sustainability trends and issues to keep members up to date. Associations thus can provide an early warning service for members, enabling them to anticipate and plan more effectively.

2. Learn from peers and industry leaders. Members can share best practices and learn from one another. This can result in improved outcomes, because members are able to tap into the collective insights and expertise within the industry or profession. CSR or sustainability criteria can be established by industry peers who set the overall industry standard, benchmark or code of practice. Sector leaders are often willing to share their insights to the benefit of the entire industry or profession. Members do not need to go-it alone.

3. Progress through collective action. It is challenging for organizations to move the needle on sustainability if they act independently. Individual organizations can provide influence but it often takes industry collaboration to make substantial progress on important large-scale issues.

4. Save time and money. Participating members can save time and money when the association takes a leadership role and aggregates resources and knowledge. Collective action can be more cost-effective than independent action. Organizations can cost-share expenses and generate more robust results.

5. Obtain stakeholder perspectives. Stakeholders may prefer dealing with the industry as a whole rather than on an individual company basis. It can be more effective for members to have a one-window approach to stakeholders and stakeholder insights, whether non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia, suppliers, governments, other sectors, communities or consumers. This way, members don’t have to deal directly with watchdog groups and invest scarce resources in stakeholder monitoring and engagement.

6. Enhance corporate brand; build license to operate. Sector programs can enhance the competitive advantage of the industry or profession nationally or globally. Sectors perceived as managing their social and environmental performance will earn the respect and trust of the public, customers and civil society – important factors to build an industry’s license to operate and grow. By working together, sustainability performance can be elevated across the entire sector. This can enhance the sector’s image and increase the credibility of member brands.

What you can do

Use your influence now! Send the Industry Association Roadmap to Sustainability to your industry association or to someone in your company who connects with your industry association. Or send it to an association you think needs help to build a more sustainable industry.

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