Letter no.1Published by MAC on 2004-08-15
Perhaps the single most influential group that possess the power and resources to determine the future of our planet is the corporate sector. The land area under corporate management is vast. Livelihood and income dependence by people on successful businesses is overwhelming. Single companies are wealthier than entire groups of governments. The activities and attitudes of business are of fundamental importance in determining the viability and sustainability of the environment in which we all live and on which we all depend.
There is a wide array of ways in which civil society and NGOs can engage with and influence the private sector and each of these approaches has its own role and value. Exposés can reveal malpractice and lobbying can change behaviour. Relationships built by companies in response to such actions are important, from a business perspective, in terms of managing risk and improving reputation whilst also achieving the public good sought by the NGOs.
Accepting corporate funding and sponsorship is also a perfectly legitimate activity and ensures the viability of hundreds of thousands of valuable projects around the world. However, care must be taken to ensure that mutual branding is not used as implied endorsement beyond that project.
But none of these approaches should be confused with partnership.
Partnership involves two groups who may have very different views and resources, agreeing on common aims, which, if achieved, will deliver benefits to each of them.
An effective partnership sets clear objectives and ground rules. An honest partnership recognises the right to disagree. An efficient partnership uses the strengths of each to build the capacity of the other. A strategic partnership focuses on the long term.
It seems to me that if we genuinely want to find lasting solutions to some of the most urgent and overwhelming issues facing our global environment, then translating conservation priorities into value-adding and sustainable business practices is crucial. Smart partnerships with corporations are an essential tool in achieving our mission. Indeed, we could be regarded as negligent if we fail to engage.