Monday, January 22, 2007

Thesis Finalised and published!

After many months of hard work on our thesis, its finally finished and is available for download through the Masters in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability programme website (click here).

The final title:
"Strategic partnerships for transformational change towards a sustainable society"

We feel there is a wealth of information contained within the thesis and as new evidence of ecological and social decline is presented daily in the world press, it is clear that the partnership phenomenon is here to stay. More than ever we are committed to the findings that partnerships are an integral part of an increasingly complex and interconnected global
society and are essential to its survival.

The main message we have is that organisations wishing to partner for sustainability reasons must truly embrace sustainability if partnerships are to be effective in contributing towards this overall societal goal. The framework for strategic sustainable development pioneered by The Natural Step provides a useful way of aligning organisational strategies and goals with sustainability and as such, is something we recommend organisations investigate - contact us for more information on how we see it being best applied in relation to partnerships.

For us personally, the outcomes from this project have been greater than the actual thesis document itself. They include
  • gaining experience working in partnership with Interface and The Natural Step France
  • Seeing first-hand the difficulties faced by organisations when trying to do the right thing
  • developing a greater understanding of the rationale for partnerships towards sustainability,
  • Identifying the shortcomings in many partnering approaches today, especially those initiated under the guise of Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • developing expertise in collaborative approaches to working and co-creating.
  • having fun, learning from each other and co-creating this project together.
Since finalising the thesis, we have further refined our ideas. In November 2006, Richard attended a conference in Ghana on Is Corporate Citizenship Making a Difference? and presented a paper advocating a strategic approach to corporate citizenship and partnerships formed therein. You can read more about the trip on Richard's blog.

This site has been dormant for some time and is still a work in progress with regards to the thesis (time just slipped away). But Partnerships4SSD is alive and well. Check back later for more news on our next projects together and please feel free to contact us regarding our research or ideas for collaboration with us. We would love to hear from you.

Warm Regards

Monday, January 01, 2007


Welcome to our blog!

Here, we'll provide an update of progress throughout our research period and our quest to understand how partnerships can contribute to Strategic Sustainable Development (SSD).

We invite you to contribute to the development of our ideas by posting comments or contacting us.

Miriam, Andrew and Richard

Friday, June 16, 2006

Abstract from Draft Final Report

We have completed a draft final report on our reseach, and submitted it to our supervisors.

Abstracts have been submitted to three conferences, and already accepted at two.

We will continue to update this site with news and extracts from the final thesis, and welcome contact from anyone interested in the outcomes of our research.

We are especially interested in anyone who has advice or ideas on how the work we have done may be applied in practical contexts, as we are all interested in continuing to work on this topic!


Today, global socio-ecological problems are too complex and urgent for isolated actions and cross-sector collaboration is increasingly required to generate transformational change towards sustainability. Partnerships between businesses and civil society organisations (CSOs) in particular have the potential to achieve change at the depth and scale required. However, the ‘backcasting’ approach used in this study highlights a gap between current approaches and what partnerships might look like in a sustainable future. Research draws on literature, eighteen semi-structured interviews and an action research project with Interface Europe. Results indicate that: 1) in the current paradigm shift collaboration provides a competitive advantage; 2) individual, organisational and societal benefits of partnering are significant; 3) understanding the art and science of partnering is needed to make them work 4) organisational development and strategy affect partnership type and outcomes; 5) CSR efforts initiate cross-sector partnerships, but are responsive and fall short of being strategic because; 6) articulation of visions for a sustainable future is rare and; 7) most partnerships are not aligned with core business strategies. In conclusion, dialogue across all sectors is advocated to co-create a sustainable future and The Natural Step Framework is recommended to align business planning and partnership strategies with sustainability.


Partnerships, Cross-sector Collaboration, Strategic Sustainable Development, Civil Society Organisations, Corporate Social Responsibility, backcasting.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Our Research Scope

At a basic level, our research scope is to examine relationships between civil society organisations and the business sector.

Research so far has lead us to believe that 'partnerships' are mutually beneficial relationships. So, in a sense, we are focussing on partnerships between the two types of organisations (business and CSO's).

Next, we are looking specifically at partnerships that aim to address sustainability issues. Whether or not they are successful is something we will examine in our thesis.

We are looking to draw general conclusions about the way different

Since we are talking about global sustainability, our scope is global.

Defining our scope to this extent has been a real challenge and we would love feedback

Relationship with external partners

We are very glad to be conducting our research in collaboration with NGO The Natural Step, France (TNS) and Interface Europe.

TNS is providing sustainability consulting services to Interface Europe and in particular, is assisting with the roll-out of Interface Europe's ReEntry carpet reclamation program.

The ReEntry program is an example of a partnership for sustainability and as such, is one case study within our thesis. We are actively assisting both TNS France and Interface to find ReEntry partners in Scandinavia. This is giving us the opportunity to test our ideas and gain first hand experience in the partnering process.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

What we've learnt about cross-sector collaboration

We see partnerships & dialogue across sectors as critical for evolving the development of individuals and organisations to a new level to solve problems that we have collectively created, and must collectively solve.

Many experts agree:

“We are all standing on the edge of the cliff that is crumbling. Somewhere off in mist is the realm of sustainability. We have to build a bridge to get that realm of sustainability and
companies that are good at building that bridge, bringing others along with them, and having conversations with their adversaries, will do the best” (Anon. interviewee)

“Cross-sector partnering between business, government, and nonprofits will be the collaboration paradigm of the 21st century.” James Austin, The Collaboration Challenge

"Partnering is a response to failure…because we can’t do it alone" R. Tennyson, The Partnering Initiative

The image below represents one way of thinking about society as nested systems. Each individual is different; each organisation is comprised of different individuals (e.g. green NGO organisation comprised of NGO people, some business minded, some policy-oriented); and society is comprised of different organisations or sectors.

If we want to live happily within the constraints of the biosphere, we are going to have to re-imagine new ways of working together with each other and with all other beings on earth. Whether we like it or not we are part of an intricately interdependent web of life whose connecting threads are being severed at an accelerating rate...

And are there signs that we are going to be able to stop our 'spaceship earth' from some major malfunctions? We think so, and we think collaborative dialogue & action are key strategies towards success!

Understanding the relationships between partners and partnering

“It is the quality of the dynamic relationships between a partnership’s context, purpose, participants, organizations and outcomes, that makes the difference between success or failure”
– Nelson in Zadek, 2000.

“Partnering needs a vision of the future, some sort of aspiration" R. Tennyson, The Partnering Intitiative

"...In that sort of field CSR can not stand alone because it is just a palliative. (You) Need planned partnership between business and government on sustainable development." (Anon. interviewee)

“Governments do not make you happy, companies do” (Anon. interviewee)

For most people, the decision about what brand of toilet paper they use is probably more important than who their legislative representative is. It says more about their identity and who they are than the government is.” (Anon. interviewee)

“Happy people don’t destroy the planet” (Anon. interviewee)

Corporate Social Responsibility and where we think its heading

“Hypocricy is the first step to real change” (Anon. interviewee)

“At the end of the day, sustainability all it’s doing, what you want it to do, is to make different decisions to what you would have made at crucial points previously. If you are doing lots of sustainability assessments, but you still make the same decisions about how you roll out a project or where you put your dollars, and that sort of thing, then you are not really achieving anything” (Anon. interviewee)

"Relative to their size, they (SMEs) are probably doing as much or more as larger companies, it is just they don’t communicate about it. They don’t have the annual reports etc." (Anon. interviewee)

“It’s like being caught with your hand in cookie jar…instead of stop stealing cookies, you learn how to behave in an eloquent way each time you get caught” (Anon. interviewee)

The image and quote below are a bit extreme, but the point needs to be made: much of what we have seen labelled as CSR is not making the real contribution to creating a sustainable future. Without an understanding of the root causes of the problems; without a deeper level of commitment to transformational change; and without a strong sense of direction & vision of 'success', many CSR initiatives fail to be effective...

Global factors and network society

“… corporate system is like the titanic … and is now sinking. We can either run around the deck in panic and analyse why it sucks… Or we can put our energy into building a better boat…solar powered, wind powered, party on the boat…and pull up to the titanic and people will willingly jump on our new boat” (Anon. interviewee)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Expert Interviews

We are currently conducting expert interviews on the themes of:

  • Global factors and Network society
  • CSR and the future of CSR
  • Personal examples of cross-sector collaboration
  • The future of cross-sector relationships
  • Values and Leadership
We've made this space available for any of the people we interview to provide feedback on the interview or to add any comments that come to mind after the interview.

How did you find the interview? Were we clear in asking the questions? Did it provoke any new ideas that you'd like to share?

Its possible to post comments on this blog site by clicking on the 'leave comments' link below (can be anonymous). Alternatively you can email us.

Thanks again to all our interviewees for your time and agreeing to help us with our research. So far we have interviewed or spoken to the following people, click on thier names for further info:

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Finding Partners

We're on the lookout for partner organisations (in Scandinavia) that can work with Interface. Here's a brief idea of how ReEntry works, and the role that the partner organisations play:

From the diagram you can see that we're talking about second hand carpet tiles, which are removed from a customer's premises when they buy new carpet from Interface. The used carpet tiles vary in condition (some of the tiles could still have a useful life of up to 15 years, whereas some may be worn, stained or damaged).

The partner organisations take responsibility for the carpet tiles once they are received from Interface. There are commercial arrangements in place between the partner organisation and Interface, which vary depending on circumstances and market factors.

The main idea behind financing ReEntry is that the cost of otherwise disposing the old carpet tiles at landfill is still charged to Interface's customer but is used to cover logistics and overhead costs from the ReEntry program.

The partner organisations have a number of options for treating the carpet tiles and finding a new market for it. The objective is to avoid the carpet ending up in landfill, though some options are more preferable in terms of a waste hierarchy and conservation of resources.

Interface has a number of criteria for selecting partners. Being able to handle pallets of carpet tiles, and having access to a market for the tiles are crucial factors. However, since the ReEntry program is part of Interface's overall sustainability strategy, it is also important that partner organisations contribute to society in a positive way. This area is something we wish to explore in more detail during our research.

The experience from ReEntry in other countries shows that partner organisations are energetic and creative socially-minded enterprises that provide skills training, employment (and low cost carpet tiles and / or other carpet-derived products). Typically they are in the business of recycling office furniture.

If you know of any organisations that fit this category, we would love to hear about them.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Globalisation has created an unprecedented level of connectedness and presents an opportunity for business to re-evaluate its relationship to civil society.[1] Now more than ever, it is important to understand the full impact of our actions and build resilient relationships that enhance the social fabric.

In a sustainable future, all sectors of society will need to work closely together to take advantage of synergies, and collectively ensure that the fundamental principles for sustainability[2], are not violated. Mutually beneficial relationships between the different sectors (business, government, civil society, and academia) will be strategically aligned to regenerate ecological systems, human happiness[3] and the overall performance of business.

Those different sectors can concretely demonstrate they are working together towards this vision through new programs, policies and initiative. One example is Interface, the world’s largest manufacturer of modular commercial flooring; a business that is striving to embody sustainability through the consideration of ‘people, process, product, place, and profit’ in all its operations. Their ReEntry program explicitly aims to develop mutually beneficial relationships with social organisations to divert used carpet from landfill.

Interface is looking to expand its ReEntry program to Scandinavia, and this presents the opportunity to actively study and participate in growing a network of mutual beneficial with sustainability objectives in mind.

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[1] For the purpose of this research, the term civil society refers to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations, and socially oriented businesses.
[2] Our definition of sustainability is based upon the scientifically peer-reviewed system principles for socio-ecological sustainability derived by the NGO, The Natural Step.
[3] We define human happiness as people being able to satisfy the nine fundamental human needs outlined by Manfred Max-Neef. Human Scale Development, 1991, Apex Press.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thesis Supervisory Committee

Our Thesis Supervisory Committee is made up of:

Primary Supervisor: Roya Khaleeli (Blekinge Institute of Technology, BTH)
Secondary Supervisor: Karl-Henrik Robért, The Natural Step (TNS / BTH)
External Supervisors: Renaud Richard (TNS France), Ed Blamey (Sustainability Director Interface Europe)

The thesis will also be peer-reviewed by masters students within the current MSLTS program at BTH.

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