"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
“Sustainability” is not always sustainable. Simply, doing and describing what you do as sustainable does not make it so. For organizations (and us, personally!) to be sustainable in what we do, we have to be sustainable in who we are and how we see the world. This gives us our best shot at doing something that is actually going to get or generate sustainable results. In the following series of six posts I will introduce the six levels of engaging in sustainability: Compliance, Conformity, Cooperation, Collaboration, Coherence and Constellation. We use these at Interkannections to help our clients clarify their current goals around sustainability and map out their paths for deepening their practice and impact.
When we act at the Cooperation level our focus shifts to giving back and helping out. We engage in philanthropy and charitable giving/support of select causes because we’ve decided or believe it is the ”right” thing to do.
- Sustainability at this level focuses on a mix of internal and external drivers calling for “giving” and “helping out.”
- Example sustainability activities: Charitable giving, service days, volunteerism, targeted but disconnected internal and external CSR campaigns, employee-specific giving schemes, standards for suppliers, stated socially responsible principles and purpose.
- Being at Cooperation is about philanthropy. We feel a sense of responsibility to help and support causes of personal interest and meaning.
- What we see at this level is our capacity to do good, to help out and support social and environmental responsibility.
- What we are doing tends toward transactional giving and improvement. We help you. We help ourselves. We tend toward doing for vs. doing with.
- What we get from Cooperation is improved operational sustainability in targeted areas and the very real sense we are making a difference in the lives of the people and conservation efforts we choose to help.
- Remaining at Cooperation limits the effectiveness of the time, energy, financial and human resources we apply to socially responsible action and sustainable business. Activity gets confused with accomplishment.
From our research it is pretty clear that most organizations are currently operating around the Conformity and Cooperation levels. Further research by a partner in the US found that over 60% of the companies they surveyed were operating between Compliance and Cooperation. In terms of sustainability, we believe our greatest challenge and opportunity is moving beyond these levels because it is our thinking and behavior at these levels that has brought us to where we are today. Simply, Compliance, Conformity and Cooperation are showing themselves to be unsustainable.