Gatekeepers and gateways: Trade associations key to gaining ground in sustainability performance of organizations

Published on April 28, 2016

Global consensus grows on the sustainability issues we need to tackle to put society and the planet on a secure path. Over the past few months two high-water marks have been achieved:

  • A new global agenda to end poverty by 2030 and pursue a sustainable future was unanimously adopted by UN member states last September.
  • In a historic move, more than 170 countries inked the Paris climate agreement this past Earth Day, committing to limit global average temperature increases to well below 2 °C.

Now the hard work begins. We all know that business needs to be an equal partner with governments, civil society and citizens to realize these ambitions. We also know that unless business collaborates within its industry – with peers and competitors – these goals will be little more than a pipedream. The herculean task of re-engineering business value chains and their operating contexts to advance an inclusive, circular and low-carbon economy can only be achieved if sectors address barriers and opportunities together.

Needless to say, a sustainable future is impossible working one company at a time.

Fortunately, sectors that have not yet started this journey can learn from those that have. The Mining Association of Canada, Forest Products Association of Canada, Chemistry Industry Association of Canada and Hotel Association of Canada have defined what sustainability means for their sector, and developed metrics, goals and standards to advance social and environmental progress for their members. Their journeys are summarized in this one-page sustainability roadmap for industry associations and have informed this “How-To-Guide” for industry associations.

Industry associations navigating this path realize these advantages:

Member benefits

  • Attract and retain members: Sustainability programming increases the value and relevance of the association to current and prospective members. It also reduces the risk that members will have their sustainability needs met by other organizations or initiatives.
  • Identify member priorities: Generic global sustainability initiatives and standards can make priority-setting for business members difficult. An association-wide approach can assist members to develop a relevant, tailored model.
  • Fulfill association goals: Sustainability is one tool to enhance member profitability and competitiveness.
  • Enhance innovation: Sustainability programs foster sector innovation and ensure members keep abreast –  if not ahead of – regulatory, competitive and marketplace trends.

Association benefits

  • Build positive government and stakeholder relations: Associations that increase their sustainability expertise are better positioned to contribute positively to regulatory initiatives and to engage constructively with NGOs and stakeholders.
  • Build industry reputation and brand: A sustainability program demonstrates the sector’s commitment to sustainable practices and leadership. It can boost positive stakeholder relationships with customers, communities, NGOs, suppliers and others.
  • Enhance employee and volunteer recruitment and retention: Associations with sustainability programs attract and retain the best and brightest employees and volunteers who prefer to work for organizations aligned with their values.

Forward-thinking trade associations understand these drivers; they provide education, resources and support to their business members to enhance their capabilities to steward their organizations and society to future success.

Use this checklist tool to set a strategic course for your industry’s sustainability programs.

Canadian associations based in Ottawa interested in supporting their business members to enhance and scale their sustainability practices are eligible to join the new Canadian Industry Association Sustainability Network. Details here. Contact Coro if you would like your association to attend an upcoming Industry Association Sustainability Roundtable on May 13 in Ottawa.

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