6 rules for happy climate partnerships

One city, company, state or nation can’t solve our climate and energy challenges overnight. Meaningful progress requires a variety of approaches by multiple actors, and that’s why partnerships are critical.

The benefits, indeed, the necessity of partnering and collaborating on climate action is increasingly being recognized.

The MIT 2014 Sustainability Report notes that “a growing number of companies are turning to collaborations — with suppliers, NGOs, industry alliances, governments, even competitors — to become more sustainable.” Collaborating with non-traditional partners was the focus of this month’s National Association of Clean Water Agencies’ (NACWA) Winter Conference, where C2ES President Bob Perciasepe touted the benefits of water and energy utility partnerships. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will recognize the importance of innovative partnerships for the first time in the upcoming 2015 Climate Leadership Awards to be announced Feb. 24 in Washington D.C.

Successful partnerships on climate and energy challenges, like successful relationships, take work. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, we offer the following six rules for strong partnerships:

1. Be authentic and honest. Coming into the partnership with a clear understanding of what drives your organization and the motivation for partnering can influence the success of the project. As McKinsey&Company puts it, “Any collaboration must make sense for all parties, whether their primary interests are commercial, environmental, or social. Enlightened self-interest is the only genuinely sustainable motive.”

2. Share a joint vision of the future. Agreeing on the expectations and goals of the partnership helps establish a shared language, which is a key ingredient for developing a sense of trust. For example, the C2ES Make an Impact program works with companies to craft of a vision of a successful employee engagement program and then works collaboratively to create and deliver a unique engagement campaign.

3. Fill roles that accentuate strengths. Companies often partner with nonprofits, universities or companies in their supply chains to bring together the right mix of resources to achieve goals. As partnerships are developing, it’s important to understand each organization’s strengths and constraints. For example, an organization with unique expertise but a mission not tightly aligned with a partnership’s goal could still make a valuable contribution.

4. Remember: Your partner doesn’t need to fill every role for you. “You complete me” is a beautiful thought as long as it’s coming from Jerry Maguire. Given the complexity of some climate challenges, some efforts will require more than two actors. For example, the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative brings together a number of public agencies as well as universities and nonprofits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prepare for local climate change impacts and share their learnings.

5. Things should be good – most of the time. There can be a lot of negotiating and management associated with developing and maintaining truly transformative partnerships. Organization leaders have to put in the time and sometimes make concessions for the collaboration to succeed. That said, it is important that the benefits and value created through the collaboration outweigh the transaction costs of the time and resources required to participate in the partnership.

6. Allow your partner to evolve – and let yourself evolve, too. Organizational evolution is expected. Internal and external priorities, strategies, and ability to contribute to partnerships change over time. Some changes in leadership and markets will provide growth opportunities but may require the partnership to adjust. Maintaining an open dialogue will go far in preserving what the relationship has already delivered and ensuring that everyone is aware of and can respond to evolving conditions.

C2ES will explore these best practices and the role of innovative partnerships in climate solutions in a side event at the 2015 Climate Leadership Conference, which is a platform for powerful collaboration on climate. The conference gathers forward-thinking leaders from business, government, academia, and the non-profit community to explore energy and climate solutions. Online registration closes Feb. 18.