Stakeholder engagement emerging as a vital tool

How can stakeholder engagement be used as a tool to add value to a company?

Katherine Partridge, managing partner of Stakeholder Research Associates, provides a simple example.

A resources company operates in a community and becomes involved in community engagement, working with the community to resolve environmental, social and economic concerns.

The company plans to expand to another community and faces opposition. Because of stakeholder engagement in the first community, it can call on representatives of that community to assure the second community that it is a corporately responsible company that can be trusted.

“The support of an external stakeholder is of very real value to a company,” Partridge says.

Stakeholder engagement is rapidly emerging as a vital tool to develop an understanding of what sustainability means for companies and how it add value and viability to their operations,” she says.

Some corporations recognize the value for both themselves and their stakeholders in building trust-based, mutually beneficial relationships, she says. “They are recognizing that multiple stakeholders are contributing to innovative and sustainable solutions.”

Engagement can help organizations meet tactical and strategic needs ranging from gathering information and spotting trends that may impact their activities to improving transparency and building the trust of individuals or groups whose support is critical to an organization’s long-term success, she says.

“Engagement can spark the innovations and organizational change needed to meet new challenges and opportunities.”

Partridge is chief researcher for Volume 1 of the Stakeholder Engagement Manual, based on interviews with more than 70 corporations, non-governmental organizations, international trade unions and industry sector associations around the world.

The manual is a project of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) with Stakeholder Research Associates and Accountability, an international institute promoting accountability for sustainable development.

“There is a lot of stakeholder engagement work still to be done,” Partridge concludes. “We do have some leaders out there and, at the very least, there is more and more currency for the language.”

There are some trends to encourage stakeholder engagement, including an explosion in the number and range of stakeholders demanding the attention of corporations, Partridge says.

Primary stakeholders have expanded to include shareholder activities, responsible investment funds and rating agencies as well as sector competitors and suppliers.

Secondary stakeholders have grown to include not only government regulators and environmental groups but also civil society organizations promoting social and health agendas as well as international multi-stakeholders organizations and networks such as the Global Compact and Global Report Initiative.

NGO-business partnerships now are being used frequently as the strategy of choice for influencing legislative and industry-level change, she says. NGOs increasingly are managing multiple partnerships to deal with today’s complex issues, Partridge says.

She cites the partnership of Lafarge, the world’s largest buildings materials company, and CARE International in relation to their work on HIV/AIDS, a partnership that sets out common targets and involves several other key stakeholder groups.

A long-standing partnership between Lafarge and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has resulted in significant reductions in CO2 emissions in the cement-making process as well as improving quarry rehabilitation.

The Stakeholder Engagement Manual can be viewed at