From influencing to ignoring: industry associations vary in their sustainability efforts

Published on March 2, 2018

Quick question: where is your industry association on the sustainability continuum? Do you know what it is doing to help your sector anticipate, influence and steer during these disruptive, turbulent times?

Our industrial economic system has served many of us well this past two hundred years, but as we hurtle towards 10 billion people inhabiting the planet by 2050, our current approach to production and consumption is unsustainable. Projections are that up to three billion people will move into the middle class over the next 30 years; the world’s population will use 70 percent more resources per capita. Without a course correction by consumers and business, total demand for resources will exceed the Earth’s capacity by a staggering 400 percent. Risk experts believe that rising income and wealth disparity will be a driver of global risks over the coming decade.

These are risks that industry associations can’t ignore: their sectors’ long and short-term viability is at stake. If you’re curious – or concerned – about what your association is doing to assess and address emerging sustainability risks and opportunities, I have hot-off-the-press data.

Taking stock

I just completed a scan of nearly one hundred Canadian national trade associations, representing all sectors of the economy, looking for best practices in sector-wide sustainability. On the upside, I was encouraged to see some sectors emerge with robust sustainability programs, including the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining Program, Chemistry Association of Canada’s Responsible Care Program, Fertilizer Canada’s We’re Growing Sustainability Program and Canadian Electricity Association’s Sustainable Electricity Program.

The vast majority, however, are in the early stages, barely starting their sustainability journey. We’ve got a long way to go to prepare industries for future realities.

I created a “maturity model” to capture the practices industry associations are demonstrating – from those who blatantly ignore reality to those who recognize the imperative to ensure their sectors are fit for the future.

Taking action

Opposed, comprehensive or somewhere in the middle: where is your industry association on the sustainability journey? If you’re not sure – or need to get their attention – you can take persuasive action. Direct association leaders to these two resources to help them on the road to improving sustainability for their members and industry sector: (1) this benchmark tool to assess their strengths and gaps and, (2) this How-To Guide.

Recognizing that our current approach to production and consumption can’t possibly sustain 10 billion people in the years to come should concern all companies and the associations that represent them. But, with this reality comes enormous opportunity to influence sustainability progress. Society is at a juncture, and industry associations have a critical role to play to put society and their members on a sustainable path. Now is the time for action.

Subscribe to Coro’s Newsletter

A few times a year, Strandberg Consulting sends out a newsletter to keep Coro’s network up-to-date on her latest projects, publications and tools. You may subscribe to the newsletter here or visit the archives.

Join the sustainability conversation. Coro is active on Twitter and LinkedIn.