Defining the Community as a Key Sustainability Stakeholder

image: communityStakeholder: defined as a group or an individual who, not only is affected by, but can also directly affect the actions of a company. Business stakeholders are often limited to the most obvious (i.e. investors, employees, suppliers customer, etc.).  The forgotten ‘community’ in which the business operates can oftentimes be overlooked as a key business sustainability stakeholder.

Not all organizations have seen the value in proactive community stakeholder engagement.  However, identifying and engaging the local community as a key stakeholder is becoming a more recognized business value opportunity.

The growth in social and eco awareness has made the link between business sustainability and a thriving community more visible today than it ever has been in the past.  Companies are more directly tied to the sustainability of the community in which they operate and business sustainability leaders are seizing this value. 

For example, Timberland is taking a step beyond philanthropy to leverage the value-ties to the local communities in which they operate.  The company has found mutual value in that volunteer work and social outreach has been a major source of staff motivation and retention for the business.

So how can you get started?  According to a Network for Business Sustainability report, an important first step is considering the type of relationship the organization wishes to pursue. For example, research points to a continuum spanning various types of engagements:

•    Transactional: "giving back" through community investment

•    Transitional: "building bridges" through two-way communication

•    Transformational: "changing society" through deep interactions with strategic community partners

Our sustainability consulting suggests that no one company can stand alone.  The business world operates in a matrix of stakeholder interactions.  These value adding relationships include the interests of employees, supporting organizations, and the community as a whole.  Thus, building strong “two-way” stakeholder relationships is a critical component to long-term business sustainability.

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