Key lessons for successful climate partnerships

With the scale and complexity of climate challenges, it’s no wonder more companies, cities, nonprofits and others are pooling resources and expertise to create solutions together.

To recognize and encourage this collaboration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a Certificate for Innovative Partnerships and awarded the first-ever certificates at the Climate Leadership Conference this year. The two winners, the Chevrolet Clean Energy Campus Campaign and the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative, shared their recipes for successful partnership during a recent EPA webinar.

While the speakers shared many valuable insights, two lessons were obvious: having a clear goal and getting the right people on board are crucial to success. These lessons are easier said than done, so let’s take a closer look:

Lesson One: Start with a clear goal

Partnerships are created for a variety of reasons: to develop new practices, share information and expertise, consolidate influence, or share risk.  Whatever the motivation, it is crucial to reach agreement early on a clear and credible goal.

The right goal can be a powerful unifying tool. For example, the Chevy Clean Energy Campus Campaign has set out to reduce carbon emissions through clean energy projects on college and school campuses. This goal is shared by the partnering institutions, all of which have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

Institutions like Ball State University pursue low-carbon projects for a variety of reasons, such as reduced operating costs, social leadership, and even to provide learning opportunities to students. Meanwhile, Chevy sees a promising business case for supporting the advancement of a low-carbon economy. While the motivations may vary, the shared goal creates a valuable opportunity across sectors. Indeed, Chevy’s approach has already caught the attention of hundreds of campus leaders and dozens of stakeholders.

Lesson Two: Get the right people

It’s no secret that people can make or break a project, and that is certainly true with partnership-based efforts. As the webinar speakers pointed out, selecting the right manager is crucial to ensuring a partnership is successful.

This may require creating a new position to oversee and manage the partnership or simply assigning reliable staff members. In either case, the managing leads should have enough autonomy to make good decisions on behalf of partner organizations to keep a project on pace.

When the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative (SCRCC) was established, a dedicated position was created to manage the network. Laura Engeman coordinates all activities and working groups with a cooperative and detail-oriented approach. Engeman has also been empowered from the start to uphold the SDRCC’s guiding goals. This has allowed the partnership to grow and transform based on local needs and capacities without getting distracted by unrelated projects.

Any partnership is dynamic and complex. Multi-partner projects require people from different organizations to overcome cultural and operational differences to agree on an approach to solving a problem. Steering a partnership to success is no simple feat. Because of this, we commend those who are joining together to address our climate and energy challenges.

Are you involved in a transformative climate partnership and think it deserves recognition? Learn more about all of EPA’s Climate Leadership Awards at