Joint Corporate Advocacy: What It Is and How to Make It Work

© Chris J Ratcliffe / WWF-UK

Corporate advocacy for sustainability is becoming an important dimension of being a sustainable company. This coincides with rising public expectations for companies to advocate for people and the planet.

Leading companies and global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are increasingly working together on joint advocacy initiatives bringing together other stakeholders (peers, value chains, investors, etc.) to collectively shape policies and market incentives that deliver positive change on key issues (improving society, accelerating action on climate change, and shifting the systems that can enable or hold back progress).

GlobeScan and WWF International recently surveyed 57 companies around the world to explore how the power of joint corporate advocacy can be harnessed to deliver long-lasting positive impact – we discussed key research findings during a webinar on June 22, 2023, with panelists from H&M Group, International Paper, and WWF International, which we have summarized below.

What’s the Latest with Joint Corporate Advocacy?

A growing area. Corporate advocacy is a rapidly expanding area – nearly six in ten companies surveyed by GlobeScan and WWF International say they intend to do more in the next 12 to 18 months, and none say they will do less.

A critical tool used by companies to advance goals – first and foremost. With a highly complex environment to navigate and large-scale positive impact being most often achieved through system change, companies are seen to primarily engage in advocacy to advance their own sustainability and/or strategic goals, and because it aligns with and reinforces their corporate values and mission.

Multistakeholder initiatives and NGO collaborations are key to action advocacy. Multistakeholder initiatives/coalitions, followed by partnerships with NGOs/NPOs, are seen to be the most valuable or impactful types of advocacy engagement by the companies interviewed, well ahead of industry/trade associations and industry collaborations. Adopting an agile, cross-sector, and collaborative mindset to reach a growing number of stakeholders and audiences has become instrumental: while legislations are predominantly in the remit of policymakers, results cannot be achieved without the support of peers, supply chains, industry associations, investors, stakeholders, employees, customers, etc.

Complex, challenging, and a lack of resources

Companies interviewed overwhelmingly report that the complexities of the sustainability issues at stake, the resource requirements, and time commitments are the most important challenges in actioning corporate advocacy. But these challenges are shared along the advocacy spectrum: companies also find it hard to reach and engage with policymakers who also lack time themselves.

So, What’s Needed to Make Joint Corporate Advocacy Work?

Maintain consistency in messages and efforts

Internally, the alignment of all functions and business units (sustainability, corporate affairs, legal, communications) behind the same goal and message is of paramount importance. Within collaborations and coalitions, leveraging multiple partners and stakeholders who align on mutual goals, are willing to share knowledge, and engage in a continuous and open dialogue will ensure credibility to build strong 360-degree cases. Corporate leaders need to “be open to have NGOs push [them] and challenge [them] to set the best course of action,” said Pernilla Halldin, Group Head of Public Affairs for the H&M Group.

Have long-term focus

A long-term broad-encompassing vision is critical to delivering collective change. Collaborations rooted in and developed over time are at the heart of resilient and agile businesses. Trusted partners and shared experience help businesses sustain and respond to changes more easily through acquired knowledge, networks, and credibility of collaborations.

Combine systems change and area-level action

While corporate advocacy requires policy-level involvement and systems change, it is also the case that focused local-level action is more effective to achieve clear goals, be accountable, and avoid greenwashing. As Cristianne Close, Deputy Director of Conservation of WWF International put it, “starting small and understanding what matters and where you can make the biggest contribution” in your value chain is essential to engage in sustainability advocacy.

Set new measures of success

If success is traditionally measured through policy outcomes and changes in legislation, the process to get there “can take years,” said Kaitlin Sighinolfi, Senior Director of Government Affairs at International Paper, as she described the US law-making process. Involving new sector peers through collaborations, creating new ties with industry associations, setting advocacy as a prerequisite for partnerships, or counter-lobbying via collective proposals are also positive outcomes with big potential payoffs in the future – these can be used as powerful measures of success along the way.

As companies set out to engage in corporate advocacy,it is useful to learn from impactful and far-reaching collaborations and coalitions like the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics treaty which is bringing together businesses and NGOs asking for more ambitious and legally binding regulations to end plastic pollution, and Business for Nature coalition which is campaigning for a mandatory nature assessment and disclosure for businesses on the back of the Global Biodiversity Framework, leading up to COP 15.

In Brief:

  • Our WWF International-GlobeScan Corporate Advocacy Survey of corporate leaders shows that corporate advocacy is growing and offers great opportunities to companies seeking to advance their sustainability goals and drive impact. Multistakeholder initiatives and coalitions are seen as the best platform to drive advocacy, though this is complex as well as being resource- and time-intensive.
  • To make it work, it is essential to close any internal advocacy gap and, instead, ensure alignment behind the same goals and messages. It is also critical to be there for the long run, combine system change engagement with area-level action, and set appropriate measures of success.

Photo credit: © Chris J Ratcliffe / WWF-UK