Collaborating with competitors to advance sustainability: a guide for managers

Lori DiVito, Garima Sharma

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional

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Sustainability challenges are among the most complex and difficult
problems facing businesses today. These challenges involve many
actors and interests and overlapping concerns, and addressing them
requires significant investments and out-of-the-box thinking. Issues
such as safety, supplier compliance, and product stewardship have
something else in common—they matter to the entire industry, not just
one firm. As a result, businesses working on these issues increasingly
find themselves doing something they never thought they would: working
with competitors.
This report provides research-based advice for creating successful
competitor collaborations for sustainability.
Competitors come together to:
• reduce reputational risks that threaten an entire industry
• support new technology development by sharing uncertain returns and
pooling knowledge
• develop shared standards for businesses within an industry
• communicate effectively with regulators on public policy
The competitor collaborations we discuss in this guide have two key
• They include direct competitors that sell similar products and services.
• They address a sustainability issue, such as climate change adaptation
for coffee farmers, worker and community health and safety,
hazardous chemical discharge, or the market for sustainable products.
Often competitor collaborations include other stakeholders such as
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government (see NBS
guide on multi-sector partnerships for more information on cross-sector
collaborations). This report specifically looks at collaborations involving
direct competitors.
Despite their increasing popularity and success, competitor
collaborations are not easy to form or to sustain. Businesses in
competitor collaborations face two main tensions:
• They need to balance their interests with those of their competitors.
They must place themselves on a continuum from cooperation to
• They need to balance accountability and flexibility. Companies
want to maintain some independent decision-making while holding
collaborators accountable for delivering on their commitments. They
must decide how to structure the collaboration on the continuum of
informal to formal structure.
How businesses view these tensions shapes the kind of competitor
collaborations they will seek.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
Publisher Network for Business Sustainability
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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