“It’s about how you work together in partnerships even with your competitors…. sustainability is not something that’s a competitive advantage. It’s something that you need to do collectively as a group,” Jim Gowen, VP of Global Supply Chain and Chief Sustainability Officer, Verizon.

I disagree … and at the same time as disagreeing, I partially agree.

OK Neil, sit on the fence why don’t you!?

Let me explain.

It is well known in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) circles that collaboration and partnerships, especially along the supply chain, can produce mutual efficiencies that benefit everyone involved. With efficiencies come cost savings and with cost savings come the potential for increased bottomline profits and a choice to reinvest back into the business.

Working in partnership with others in your industry and even with those you would describe as competitors, can open up hitherto untapped opportunities, especially when there is mutual sharing of best practice, talent and resources.

Competitive advantage is defined as the value you bring over and above the rest of your marketplace. This is often called core competency. The competency being something you just do better than the rest. Capability is what you can do; competency is what you do best.

So if you are operating strategically and tactically throughout your supply chain and with partners, in an ethical, open and honest manner for mutual benefit, you may increase your sustainability at the same time as creating new and unique value to your stakeholders. This value, by definition, may move from a capability easily replicable, to a core competency, and that in itself gives you competitive advantage, which you may use in overt marketing communications. If it’s for the greater good and to communicate how you are progressing towards your higher purpose, the surely that’s the idea?

So I would say that it is certainly possible to develop partnerships and collaborative relationships to aid your sustainability, increase efficiencies and reduce your consumption, at the same time as using those very relationships to establish new stakeholder value, and therein lies your competitive advantage.

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