What makes a company like GSK give away information about thousands of potential malaria treating drugs? Why did Nike spend 6 million USD developing their Environmental Design Apparel Tool (minimising the impact of their products in the design process) only to give it away for others to use? Why are businesses suddenly giving away what they have spent years defending in billion dollar lawsuits? Isn’t a company’s most fundamental role to make money for its shareholders, not give away its cash cows?
Cash cows or old cows?
In a world facing massive change, drastic measures are needed. A lot of the issues at hand from water scarcity to poverty are bigger than any one company or non-profit can answer. The good news though, is that these pressing problems can be solved through sharing what really works and working together. I’m not saying that these companies are suddenly going ‘philanthropy bonkers’ although it would be nice if more corporate leaders gave away the vast majority of their fortunes like Gates and Buffet have with their much needed and ambitious Giving Pledge. In these cases, it’s more likely old cows ready for the slaughterhouse being offered up rather than the real cash cows. It’s safe to say that in this part of their businesses, companies can see that sharing pays back more than taking on the fight themselves.
Working together to bring down expenses
Today most companies are realizing that when it comes to sustainability it’s more often an industry-wide approach that’s needed rather than a single company turning the market around. We have recently seen this when the fashion industry joined forces in a response to Greenpeace’s pressure and launched the Toxic Pledge. This is also logical in an economic sense, since the investments in infrastructure can be divided and the benefits harvested by multiple players. Sustainability is unfortunately still seen as an externality in most companies, so convincing companies to work together to lower those costs doesn’t take much negotiation.
Crowdsourcing a cure for over-consumption
When Salvatore Iaconesi, a 39-year-old Italian artist, was diagnosed with brain cancer he felt face to face with a Goliath-sized obstacle. Instead of becoming a slave of the usual patient system he took a different approach and wanted to crowd-source a solution for his cure. He put his journals online and asked the world for help. And help he received, with more than 300 000 visits in a couple of months. We should use Iaconesi’s example as a clarion call and join forces to crowdsource a cure for the many sustainability challenges we are currently facing – and in particular a cure for rampant over-consumption.
Knowledge is power
There are so many exciting initiatives around the world offering solutions to some of our biggest challenges, but most often people just don’t know about them, because we as humans inherently feel more important when we know something that our colleagues don’t know. Sadly, we gain power and authority through keeping knowledge to ourselves. This stance has seriously been challenged by the advent of social media, where those who share their knowledge are considered the experts. One can only hope that this trend will continue.
We need to realize that if we truly want to solve some of the larger social and environmental challenges lurking on the horizon, we need to be better at sharing and I’ll claim that we most likely already have answers to most of the problems out there. When a supermarket chain, CityMart, in Myanmar (Burma) wanted to encourage their customers to use reusable shopping bags, they took a different approach. Everyone buying and using one of their reusable shopping bags could use a priority checkout line and in that way be rewarded for an environmental choice by jumping the queue. Think if big retailers like Walmart or Tesco took on an idea like this?
ColaLife is an organisation with a real life-changing idea: Coca-cola has the largest, most far-reaching distribution network in Africa; why not use this to deliver essential medicines to remote villages? A test project is underway in Zambia and you can follow the progress on their site: colalife.org.
Don’t keep the wheel to yourself
Until recently, it was believed that in pre-colonial America the wheel had never been invented, that the Mayans were only introduced to the wheel when they were occupied by the Spaniards. But, excavations have shown that the Mayans had in fact invented the wheel, but only used it for toys. This should be an important lesson to us today, teaching us how important it is to share best practice, scale up what really works and ultimately – affect change. Sharing of ideas is vitally important. Just think – if the inventor of the wheel had kept it to himself, where would we be now?
Where good can grow
WhereGoodGrows.com is a platform that takes sharing seriously and believes that by sharing what really works, we can inspire real change. The platform encourages agencies, companies, non-profits, governmental agencies and foundations to work together to find lasting solutions for health, environment and society. It’s already showcasing initiatives by big corporations like Nike, VW, Unilever, McDonalds and WWF.
Right To Recycle
WhereGoodGrows takes this thinking one step further with the Right to Recycle License, encouraging free sharing of initiatives that do good. If an initiative can improve HIV infection rates in India, what is to say it wouldn’t work in Sub Saharan Africa? By sharing these ideas, we can make a real difference with real results and make local initiatives global!
Our survival is put to the test
WhereGoodGrows went into live beta at Sustainable Brands in San Diego and at D&AD’s White Pencil Laboratory in London. We are currently encouraging everyone to submit their sustainability initiatives or non-profit campaigns, so we can collaborate and make a real difference as well as inspire each other to keep raising the bar when we do good. As a species we have survived because of our ability to collaborate. How would we ever have been able to take on a mammoth or a sabre-toothed tiger alone? Today our ability to survive is again put to the test and our ability to collaborate with each other is key.
Sharing with mankind
Three months after Apollo 17 returned home in December 1972, then-U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered fragments of the space rocks brought home to be sent to 135 foreign heads of state. Each rock, encased in an acrylic button, was mounted on a plaque with each of the recipient nations’ flags depicted.
A letter, signed by President Nixon, accompanying the rock read, “If people of many nations can act together to achieve the dreams of humanity in space, then surely we can act together to accomplish humanity’s dream of peace here on earth. It was in this spirit that the Untied States of America went to the moon, and it is in this spirit that we look forward to sharing what we have done and what we have learned with all mankind.”
I’ll leave Nixon’s inspiring words with you.