Collaboration in networks is increasingly being used in order to address the formation and development of problem solving, knowledge building and learning in and between organisations and individuals.
Networks are more flexible forms of organisation and are seemingly more appropriate when handling complex problems and activities that are difficult to define and which must include a broad set of stakeholders.
Not surprisingly, at the 2002 Earth Summit (WSSD) in Johannesburg, it was concluded that public-private partnerships should be one of the pivotal mechanisms of greening. This underlined the shift in regulatory regimes that had been going on for more than a decade. Moving from largely command and control measures and media-shifting in the 1970s and 1980s, through cleaner production initiatives and self-regulatory initiatives in the 1990s, the emphasis is increasingly on using networks and partnerships as levers for promoting a greening of industry.
Kirschten (2005) refers to for example Innovation Networks, Sustainable Networks, Social Networks, Ecologically oriented Networks, and Sustainable Innovation Networks and discusses their aims and partners. Bäcstrand (2006) use the term multi-stakeholder partnerships when discussing the more than 300 public-private partnerships that have become one of the results of the WSSD in Johannesburg in 2002. Lehmann (2008) develops the notion of public-private-academic partnerships and proposes special roles for universities in relation to sustainable development. All do they suggest that despite differences in names and focus, these networks may perhaps best be discussed from an outset in governance.
In this paper, we reflect on the 15 years of Danish experiences with network forms of public-private partnerships, discuss their roles in relation to environmental governance, and their potentials for dealing with issues of climate change.
Setting the Scene
During the 1990s, the role envisaged for industry in the ecological transformation of society changed considerably. Ecological modernisation was the term used to describe the emergence of a new societal paradigm, which inherently involved a shift from reactive and passive attitudes in industry. The insistence that pollution prevention is costly and thus minimizes profits, is replaced by a new era where win-win solutions that create profits for greener companies are emphasized. Out of this discussion on self-regulation and pro-activeness, the idea of public-private partnerships grew.
In their most general form, networks consist of a number of relations (technical, social, institutional), connected by way of nodes. These nodes may have different characteristics but will often consist of different types of social actors (individuals, organisations, groups), material and immaterial artefacts and resources (e.g. techniques, buildings, materials), and activities (such as meetings, decision-making, learning).
During the early part of the nineties, a number of Danish municipalities and counties developed mutually committing partnerships with the private sector. The partnerships often had an environmental focus and were established on the premise that environmental protection and private sector development could in fact walk hand-in-hand.
At the same time and aided by these partnerships, the regulatory centre of attention was gradually changing both in form and in focus. From an arms-length and command & control approach to regulation (government) to an inclusive, self-regulatory approach (governance); and from problem-solving, media-shifting (dilution, end-of-pipe, etc.) and production-oriented to problem-mitigating and product-oriented.
The resulting networked governance provided space for strategic dialogue between and within the participating organisations, i.e. both public and private, resulting in early implementation of strategic environmental management.
The first network that were initiated with this focus was the Green Network in the then County of Vejle (today located in the regions of Southern and Central Denmark).
Starting out in 1992 with five municipalities, the county and about 50 local companies, the network is a story of an away-defeat and home-win. The formal establishment of the network took place in June 1994, where the six public authorities and 29 companies committed themselves to work progressively with environmental protection and business development. Primarily, the focus was on continual improvements in lieu of traditional environmental management with a coupling to occupational health & safety.
Today, the network has grown to a total of almost 300 members and the work is diversified and in addition to environmental management also specifically entails occupational health & safety and social responsibility.
Besides the developments in focus, activities and outreach, the Green Network has been role-model for additional networks in Denmark and helped establish their umbrella organization, Key2Green (originally Environmental Forum Denmark). The original manual for Environmental Management has been revised and through Key2Green available to the networks' members (about 800-1000 organisations).
The activities in Green Network and its ‘sisters' have created results on several fronts. First of all, more and more organisations have started working pro-actively and on a continual and strategic basis with environmental improvements (through integration of an environmental management system). Second, this work has often been used as a stepping stone to enlarge and institutionalise (by the development of new manuals explicitly aimed at these aspects) strategic efforts encompassing OHS and other activities pertaining to the social responsibility of companies.
The resulting palette of manuals aimed directly at facilitating easier uptake of these concepts in small and medium-sized enterprises and not just in larger corporations (something that other established approaches, e.g. ISO14001, AA1000, etc., have often been criticised for not being able to), has resulted in an uptake that is earlier and larger than what can be statistically expected (Formann et al., 2004). This is indicaties that the work done in the network, the resources committed and the activities carried out push in the right direction.
The way ahead
The question now is, can the networks be used as vehicles to also engage stakeholders in a committed, systematic and continual drive to combat climate change? Building on previous successes, can the networks develop concepts and manuals that are appropriate for also smaller companies and businesses to provide for joint, local action on Climate Change? And, with the diversity of their membership, what are the perspectives for the networks to provide for a (regional) Green New Deal to tackle a triple crunch of credit, oil price and climate crises?