Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Need for Social Networking within the Sustainability Community

Over the course of the past 4 years I have had the opportunity to work with or share market strategies with executives at social networking companies such as LinkedIn, Spoke Software, Visible Path, and BranchIT. Of particular interest to me was the ability to develop and leverage what I referred to as "Relationship Capital Management"; the opportunity to develop, foster, and share relationships within an organization (or ecosystem) for the purposes of optimizing knowledge management and revenue generation. (I posted some columns on this trend a couple of years ago on "Relationships as Assets" and Relationship Capital Management and CRM).

Viewing the challenges and opportunities in the sustainability market, it seems that social networking (both process and underlying technology) could play a large role in accelerating both awareness of key issues as well as potentially accelerate adoption.

Why? Here are some of the big challenges in the sustainability / cleantech arenas:

  • Talent shortage (engineers, executives, scientists) of trained staff worldwide, with increased demand forecasted
  • Limited training and higher education programs available today, especially in light of talent demand
  • Wide range of sustainability technology and processes mean no single person / entity can be an expert in everything
  • Very few sustainability processes have been codified at this point; case in point: the number of sustainability reporting schemes

The early stage of this field means that formal, centralized business models may not be the best organizational structure to follow (whether within an organization, or within a vendor company providing sustainability solutions). The development of virtual groups, social networks and other more flexible organizations may be better aligned to develop and implement fledging solutions. This is particularly important when one considers the range of expertise required to develop and implement a sustainable solution, a process, or even a company: business case development, financial modeling, conceptual and detailed design, construction, manufacturing / supply of materials, operations, etc.

So how are sustainability professionals interacting, sharing knowledge, and organizing for solution development and deployment? Here are some best guesses:

  • Discipline - related: civil / environmental engineering (ACEC, ASCE, AWWA), Sustainable MBAs, etc
  • Business process - related: supply chain management, process optimization, procurement, product management
  • Industry groups: LEED, AIA, AGC, buildSMART, and other buildings initiatives for architects and engineering design professionals
  • Regional groups: such as those in NY, Boston, India, and Silicon Valley; where there is an abundance of educated professionals with significant interest and expertise in relevant business processes
  • On - line networks, such as groups set up in Plaxo, Ning, LinkedIn,, Facebook, and Yahoo.

In the short term (next year or so) we will probably have multiple small networks that will grow organically along with their aligned sustainability / cleantech sectors (i.e. green buildings, green IT, etc). Over time I think there will be significant opportunities for start ups (one or more of the current social networking sites?) to build fee - based networks and integrate knowledge management, training programs, and perhaps certification programs to ensure high quality and continuous improvement / innovation of delivery.

I'm ready to help.


Furqan Nazeeri said...

I agree. I'd add that another reason for the need is that the problem is big and there is no silver bullet in terms of solving the problem. McKinsey recently did a study of 250 initiatives across various buckets and none of them solves more than a few percentage points. Basically it's going to take networks to connect professionals and help them share tools, tips and advice.

Unknown said...

Great post. I agree with what you are saying. Sustainability is the growing trend and with that comes the need to create groups and organizations devoted to public awareness and networking.

Jeff Simeone