Driving Change through Collective Impact


Great minds act alike. This is the sentiment behind the concept of “collective impact,” a model where companies group together to achieve widespread change. In the current political climate, when many social and environmental programs are at risk, “collective impact” promotes positive action via the private and business sector. It is similar to a grassroots movement, only at the organizational level where businesses, non-profit organizations, and philanthropic foundations join together, instead of individual citizens.

For example, B Corps are a collective group of companies using “the power of business to solve social and environmental challenges.” There are 2,000 certified B-Corps worldwide, and Brand Cool is proud to be one of them. Our goal is simple: to redefine success in business. By being a force for good, we’re demonstrating that businesses can have a positive impact on people and the planet—and still be profitable. In addition to supporting sustainable practices, we gave 857hours (114 work days) back to community causes last year.

Other B-Corps are literally redefining their industry. Eyewear maker Warby Parker provides a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair purchased. Revolution Foods brings more than 1 million meals to low-income public school students. Cascade Engineering supports green manufacturing while it helps its workers move from the welfare system to a career.

In addition to B Corps, other collective movements are working to create best practices for environmental change. For instance, RE100 companies pledge to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy to reduce CO2 emissions. When The Climate Group launched the program in 2014, 13 corporations participated in the pledge. Today, the list includes 87 billion-dollar brands including IKEA, Coca Cola Enterprises, GM and Google. Although each company is on its own timeframe to reach the 100 percent renewable target, research has shown that the most ambitious companies have seen a 27 percent return on low-carbon investments. This is helping to show policy makers and government that forward-thinking businesses back renewables and want to see strong climate deals.1

Efforts that get the most traction apply a structured framework to strengthen cross-sector collaboration and provide the diverse perspectives needed to tackle complex social problems. In the 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review, John Kania and Mark Kramer were the first to write about “collective impact.” From their research, they identified five key conditions that are needed for alignment and subsequent success:

  1. All participants must have a common agenda for change, including a shared understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through -upon actions.
  2. Data results should be collected and measured  consistently across the participants to ensure shared measurement for alignment and accountability.
  3. A plan of action must be outlined and coordinated to mutually reinforce activities for each participant.
  4. There must be open and continuous communication across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objective,s and create common motivation.
  5. A backbone organization with staff and a specific set of skills will serve the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies.

In Brand Cool’s marketing of energy efficiency programs, we’ve found that these same elements are essential to achieving results. When a backbone organization brings together all vendors—from implementation and quality assurance providers to marketing and customer service teams, problems can be viewed more holistically. This enables the team to assess solutions from multiple perspectives to identify the best course of action. It also establishes key performance indicators that shift strategies and tactics nearer to real time in order to minimize waste and maximize outcomes.

This was the case when we worked on NYSERDA’s Multifamily Performance Program. By coming together monthly and reviewing data consistently, our multi-dimensional team was able to tackle problems more clearly and aggressively at both the state and local level. After actions were agreed upon, we assigned responsibilities appropriately to the team members who had the best expertise and to resolve barriers. Consistent measurement and reporting kept us realistic (and honest) on how many building projects we influenced, and where we were on the path to market transformation.

Without this type of clarity and collaboration, the program wouldn’t have evolved as dramatically. And, NYSERDA wouldn’t have had the opportunity to initiate a series of national working groups to tackle issues on a broader scale. These issues included how energy-efficient multifamily buildings are labeled to attract tenants and increase competition for higher performing real estate; how supportive infrastructure is designed and developed to make it easier for building owners to fund and make improvements; and how deeper retrofits and net zero building practices can become more the norm rather than the exception.

Regardless of the “collective impact” method used, one thing will remain true: there is power in numbers. By working as individual companies or together as a committed group, we all can be powerful catalysts of change.

1 http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/cleantech/hannah_furlong/climate_week_climate_neutral_now_re100_initiatives_recruit_f