Written by Aedín O'Leary,
Co-Founder of the
Green Team Network
I was delighted when Jean Callanan invited me to be a guest blogger on her “Green Shoots” series, which highlights many of the impressive examples of businesses that are doing their utmost to have a positive impact on the environment and make a real difference in the fight against climate change. Tasked with picking one such organisation to write about in this blog, I just couldn’t make my mind up. So instead, I settled on talking about something that I have witnessed in practice and which I believe is key to helping us accelerate our respective sustainability journeys. I’m talking about “Co-opetition”.
Co-opetition is an expression I stumbled across, have robbed (I can’t quite recall from where) and now use repeatedly. It captures a “movement” or “approach” which I believe is key to helping us accelerate our respective sustainability journeys. I have been seeing it in action firsthand among my colleagues in the Irish Funds Industry, wider financial services and indeed further afield in terms of tackling climate change. The term Co-opetition has been coined to describe cooperation and collaboration among those who may be competitors, all for a higher cause - in this case, protecting our planet.
Dealing with the “Overwhelm”
The truth is that all of us - personally, corporately, by industry or by geography, and also to differing degrees – are grappling with how to counter the adverse effects of climate change. Many have been conscious of the need to address this problem for quite some time, whereas others are much more recent to party – but there’s hardly anyone I meet today who doesn’t acknowledge at least some sense of obligation to be a better steward on planet earth and who isn’t factoring it into their home or work life in some way or another. For those starting out, this can seem overwhelming – information is coming thick and fast, there is so much to do and it seems very little time in which to do it. And this is where coming together, joining forces and leveraging off each other comes into play. This includes leaning into your peers and competitors – namely Co-opetition.
Case Study – Irish Funds, Investment & Financial Services
Let me take my own stomping ground, the Irish funds and investment industry as a prime example of Co-opetition in action, singling out firstly the Green Team Network (GTN) initiative. GTN was established in 2020 as a forum for individuals and firms in the Irish Funds industry to connect and collaborate in the area of environmental sustainability – sharing ideas, pooling resources, running collective campaigns and generally giving each other a “leg up” with their respective efforts. This group comprises fund service providers, fund managers, law firms, consulting firms etc many of whom are competitors in the industry.
Full disclosure, I recognise my bias as a co-founder of GTN – but I have observed clear benefits for the individuals and firms involved in terms of combined learnings, savings on time and resources, boosting morale and shifting mindsets within their organisations, not to mention the friendly rivalry among competitors and a palpable sense of “we’re all in this together” as an industry.
Within GTN, the competition element gets parked in many respects. There’s an unspoken code of those firms just setting out on their sustainability journeys learning all they can from those who are further along, while those “leading” firms freely share their experience and expertise to help others advance too. Case in point - firms who have completed the Green Pledge of environmental commitments and activities make themselves available to assist and guide those in other firms (including competitors) who are getting started. Different individuals and firms also share the do’s and don’ts of setting up inhouse green teams, they compare notes on ESG upskilling and training, how they are “greening” their buildings, they even go on tree planting outings together.
One-Up-Man-Ship & FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
The competitive spirit is however alive and well in GTN at other times – for example, during the recent Irish Funds Climate Challenge, where industry firms and staff were pitted against each other in a competition measuring their environmentally conscious actions. There was nothing like a bit of healthy rivalry and egging each other on to create a groundswell and encourage participation. There’s also that inevitable FOMO, i.e. if that firm over there is taking part, I suppose my firm had better also! As a result, 2,300 people took part, logging 229,000 activities and were then appraised of the estimated CO2 emissions they had saved in the process.
Taking the Industry or Sector View
There are several other examples of Co-opetition successfully at play. The Irish Fund Directors Association for instance is a representative body for board directors in the funds industry, dedicated to supporting its members in delivering best practice fund governance. The members represent the boards of various competing entities and indeed come up against each other as potential candidates for the same board opportunities – so arguably a competitive enough environment. And yet, with a focus on being equipped to provide best outcomes for investors, directors come together here for think tanks and debriefs, sharing expertise and experience on ESG, sustainable investment and a range of other governance topics.
IFDA and Irish Funds also contribute to the Climate Forum established by the Central Bank of Ireland, which has brought representative organisations (including some competitors) from different sectors of the financial services industry to the table to exchange their respective experiences and perspectives on addressing sustainability and climate risk. There’s very much a recognition here that a cooperative approach to addressing gaps and meeting the challenges will be more effective than unnecessary duplication of effort and organisations / sectors working entirely in silo.
The International Sustainable Finance Centre of Excellence, ISFCOE is another demonstration of financial organisations and sustainability professionals creating a community dedicated to positioning Ireland as a leader in sustainable finance. Tasked with delivering an impactful programme of events again for Climate Finance Week Ireland later this year, I have no doubt that this will be yet another illustration of collaboration and cooperation of peers, but also competitors, across the field of sustainable finance.
We have seen many other networks and forums aimed at raising the bar on sustainability emerge within particular professions and industries in recent years – and yet again these have competitors working side by side with a Co-opetition mindset, e.g. Origin Green, Purpose Disruptors, Architects Declare to mention just a few.
Raising all the Boats
Collective initiatives like these, competitive or otherwise, help spread awareness, build momentum and mobilise organisations and sectors to act. Very few organisations have the time or capacity to tackle climate change all alone and as Aristotle told us “the sum of the parts” is very often “greater than the whole”. Therefore, for me, Co-opetition is win-win and absolutely the way to go – so let’s keeping fighting the collective fight.
Aedín is the first guest blogger on ‘Green Shoots – Stories From Business For Our Planet’ a weekly blog by Jean Callanan telling stories of businesses and brands that are doing inspiring and innovative things in addressing #climatechange and creating a better world.