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To make progress on sustainability, we need to join forces

Home life On the move…
Together
On the move…
Together

Collaboration is the buzzword in the drive for sustainability as the push to protect the planet breaks down barriers between many parties that were previously at odds.

Take the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has its origins in what it calls “an unlikely partnership”. It was in 2009 that retail giant Walmart wrote a joint letter with Patagonia, the outdoor-clothing company with environmental and social responsibility at its heart, inviting the CEOs of leading global companies to join forces and create environmental standards for the industry. Ten years on, the coalition has 200 members including top brands and retailers such as Adidas, Gap, H&M and Nike, manufacturers, academics, government departments and NGOs. And it has set standardised sustainability measurements for the industry in the shape of its Higg Index.

There’s still more to be done, of course. Industry insiders note the high mark-up on many ethical and sustainable goods that is still putting them out of reach of most consumers. But the marker is there.

The rise of smart coalitions

Other industries – from packaging to pets – have adopted similar approaches with the initial aim being to implement sustainable business standards. 

Meanwhile the World Economic Forum has noted that “smart coalitions, nimble networks and new partnerships are rising from all sides” in the drive for environmental co-operation. 

Collaboration is also breaking out in the area of mobility – although as a sector it seems to have more factors in play than most. For a start, there are so many different forms of transport, which vary country by country, city by city. One pioneering example of co-operation is in Finland, where Helsinki's Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) system bundles buses, taxis, bike shares and other mobility services into a monthly subscription with tickets, real-time data and optimised journey planning all accessed via an app called Whim. If the system goes on to reshape urban transport around the world, as expected, then it would reduce traffic on the road – cutting congestion and emissions. Co-operation is trumping competition.

And while each city has different transport needs – Helsinki, for example, is on a peninsula with very limited space for roads and parking – city leaders are increasingly ready to share their ideas of best practice. As is the case with the C40 Cities group for action on climate change which has networks on land use planning, mass transit, mobility management, walking and cycling, and zero emission vehicles.

The World Bank, meanwhile, also has an eye on non-OECD countries where economic growth is being accompanied by rising demand for motor vehicles. Dr Nancy Vandycke, an economic advisor at the World Bank’s Transport Global Practice, has set out three policy actions that she thinks will help underpin future sustainability in the transport sector.

Co-operation for transport

First is the need to see greener, smarter cars as part of a broader mobility revolution that promotes public transport, cycling, walking and other modes of transport. This extends to new cable-car and escalator systems in the case of Medellín, Colombia, and Quito, Ecuador, for example, which are connecting hillside neighbourhoods with the downtown core.

Second is the need to get the transport and energy industries to collaborate. The benefits of electric vehicles and the growing number of zero-emission buses will only be maximised if they run on clean electricity.

And third is the potential for public procurement policies to promote sustainable mobility. As Vandycke says, by setting more stringent requirements on performance, cost and environmental impact, “public clients can give the private sector new incentives to innovate”.

At this time of huge disruption and intense competition in so many areas, the future of sustainability relies, ironically, on working together.

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