Corporations often partner with nonprofits to enhance their CSR efforts. Case in point: Häagen-Dazs’ support for bee colony collapse research. The company gains expertise and credibility, and, according to a new survey, the nonprofit receives visibility and greater support from consumers.

The harder question is whether corporate-corporate partnerships are wins for the partners and for society?

To start to answer this question, let’s examine three scenarios.

1. Two or more corporations gain an advantage in the market due to the ‘halo effect’ of their affiliation with a cause.
Let’s suppose that Häagen-Dazs decided to work with Del Monte on the bees issue. The partnership would undoubtedly have more resources to help the bees. The question is whether Häagen-Dazs’ diluted ownership of the campaign and of the customer excitement from it would be offset by the greater visibility (and perhaps credibility?) and the higher chances of success that the partnership with Del Monte would add. Häagen-Dazs chose to go it alone.

2. Corporations jointly tackle an issue that reduces risk for their industry(ies).
Competitors GAP and Levi Strauss & Co. work together on environmental issues, using their joint buying power to push Chinese garment factories to invest in water filtration equipment. This approach reduces risk for each company by creating a level playing field at a higher standard than existing government regulation. As Google is now learning in China, taking a stand without allies may not win the CSR battles.

3. Corporations share intellectual property to increase their CSR impact.
This is the true test of a company’s commitment to transform an industry (or industries) through it’s CSR work. GlaxoSmithKline is struggling to walk the line between sharing IP that can make a huge positive impact and maintaining IP that sustains the company’s competitive position. Nike and Best Buy recently unveiled Green Xchange a platform where corporations can share and license sustainability best practices. Participating companies can limit sharing. For example, a tech firm can choose to share with an indirect competitor such as an apparel brand, but not with another tech company. More details here.


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