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Corporate Partnerships: the new (and right) path to sustainability

Perspectives from a 2015 WWF Australia summer intern

Perhaps a decade ago, it would have been almost unthinkable that non-profit organizations would develop collaborative partnerships with the private sector. Such partnerships may have been interpreted as discordant with the non-profit’s basic principles; they could have created reputational risks. But today, the development of corporate partnerships with non-profits is an important trend connecting businesses to sustainable growth. As a summer associate with the Corporate Partnership Team of WWF Australia, I explored and came to clearly understand the power of such partnerships—and why they are working so well to help companies realize sustainable practices within their business.

My task as an intern was to research the possibility of partnerships in the Australian chemical industry, a sector in which WWF has no previous experience. As part of WWF’s ongoing Water Stewardship Initiative, I was helping to understand the state of affairs in this specific sector and how WWF might play a role.  As I did this work, I found myself referring back to two particular corporate partnerships that provided an interesting platform: the case of Coles and Tassal moving to sustainable seafood sourcing and production. This story clearly represented how corporate efforts to adopt more responsible supply chains can work, as well as how certification systems can have real impact in sustainable production.

It all started between 2011 and 2012, when Coles, Australia’s second largest retailer in the grocery industry, approached WWF expressing concerns on the sustainability of their commercialized seafood. Initially, WWF developed an ecological assessment and evaluated approximately over 500 seafood products being offered by Coles supermarkets. With the results from that study, they showed the level of ecological risk associated with each species, prioritizing them for improvement projects to move towards best practice sustainability.

WWF’s initial objectives within the partnership were to improve the sustainability of seafood supply chains in Australia while educating consumers on sustainable seafood alternatives—products certified through the Marine and Aquaculture Stewardship Councils (MSC & ASC), for example. Within the several milestones achieved along this partnership, Coles signed the WWF Global Sustainable Seafood Charter, establishing its sustainable sourcing policy, committing to remove critical products from its portfolio, supporting and promoting the MSC- and ASC-certified products, and continuing to develop and implement a robust traceability program within its supply chain. In addition to its commitment to MSC and ASC certification, Coles developed a business-to-consumer strategy based on the slogan “Future Friendly”. This effort to communicate ecological issues to customers resulted in an increase in sales volume of MSC and ASCcertified seafood products.

But the effect rippled outward, impacting the whole supply chain by pushing Coles’ suppliers to join the ride to sustainable sourcing. The hard work of assessment and traceability followed all the way upstream, where Tassal works as the major salmon supplier for Coles. Since 2012, WWF has helped Tassal to shift to responsible aquaculture production through the expansion of Tassal’s sustainability strategy and implementation of action plans. By supporting and evaluating shifts in Tassal’s operations, WWF helped guide the company through the various stages of ASC certification. Tassal thus, in November of 2014, became the first salmon company in the world to achieve ASC certification across all its operations and sites. The partnership also fostered many other ambitious changes across production, reducing environmental impacts related to the company’s activities.  Today, Tassal is benchmarked by as the world’s leading salmon farm with respect to social and environmental reporting. Following Tassal’s example, three New Zealand farms have since been motivated to gain ASC certification.

With this legacy to draw on—a genuine commitment to effective partnerships—I got to work seeking opportunities in the chemical sector. I was able to identify the many components within the supply chain, signalizing major players and their leadership on sustainability trends and water management. Though I only had time to lay the initial groundwork, it’s obvious that these partnership projects – through WWF’s science-based work, credibility, and stakeholder’s engagement – present great potential and can benefit not just a single business, but entire supply chains and sectors, shifting them on to a sustainable path. In conclusion, these partnerships represent a catalyst to reduce the impacts of doing business. How the times are changing, and for the better.