Driving massive change through creative collaboration – is there still time for the bees?

Scientists found bees from six of the 12 neonicotinoid-treated colonies had left their hives and died. Photograph: Rex Features

The article Driving massive change through creative collaboration – is there still time for the bees? Written by Kathryn Cooper, President & Chief Learning Officer of the Sustainability Learning Centre, was originally published on the Sustainability Learning Centre blog.


“Honeybees abandoning hives and dying due to insecticide use, research finds.” This is the headline in the Guardian, May 9th, 2014. The most recent study by Dr. Chensheng Lu, an expert on environmental exposure biology at Harvard School of Public Health, points to neonicotionoids as a trigger to colony collapse disorder.

“No”, say the experts at Bayer CropScience, “the study is seriously flawed.” Flawed or not flawed, neonicotionoids banned or not banned, farmers with them or without them (the pesticides? the bees?). You can see where this is all going – nowhere.

At the Heart of the Matter

Yet at the heart of the matter, everyone agrees that bees are important pollinators for food production. Colony Collapse Disorder, whatever the cause, is decimating the planet’s bees. And to quote a famous, misquote, “If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live.”

We get it – it’s a complex problem. But finger pointing and jousting with research studies isn’t going to save anyone or any bee. This battle is not for market or media share; it is for the future of our children. That is why Dr. Barbara Gray’s work, “Sustainability through Partnerships – capitalizing on collaboration” is an important  guide to unimaginable collaborative solutions. She lays out a roadmap on the four factors that influence partnership outcomes: 1) external drivers, 2) partner motivations, 3) partner and partnership characteristics and 4) process issues.

Collaborative Solutions – from forest to bees

Last year Avrim Lazar, Former CEO, Forest Products Association of Canada spoke passionately at the 2013 Accelerate – Collaborating for Sustainability Conference about how the forest industry, NGOs and others came together to create a platform for sustainable forestry. It wasn’t easy. “You have to put what’s important at the centre of the discussion,” he told us. These type of collaborations are no place for egos. They are a place for authentic leadership, relationship building and innovation.

Imagine for a moment,  if the key stakeholders in the honey bee issue came together on a convening question like: “How can we collaboratively build a resilient, healthy bee pollinator population today and for generations to come?”

And imagine if chemical companies, government, farmers, environmental groups, citizens and other stakeholders could come together and create a learning process partnership. Dr. Gray’s road map would direct them to: 1)  Construct fair processes and manage conflicts, 2) Create expectations that solutions will not emerge quickly, 3) Ensure a voice for all participants, 4)  Set evaluation criteria, 5) Allow time for representatives’ constituencies to build relationships, review and ratify agreements and 6) Develop authentic leaders competent in partnership skills.

We do need a new way of solving complex problems. Barbara Gray, Avrim Lazar, Peter Senge  and the other speakers at the Accelerate Collaboration for Sustainability Conference on June 5 & 6 in Toronto will be talking about driving massive change through creative collaboration. We need these new approaches. Otherwise we’ll bee battling research, media barbs and shiny new Bee Care Centers right – into – oblivion.

Written by Kathryn Cooper
Source: Sustainability Learning Centre

Want to engage further in the conversation about sustainability-driven collaboration? The Natural Step Canada is excited to host the 2nd annual Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference on June 5-6, 2014, in Toronto. Join us to deepen learning about collaboration from experts and practitioners, experience collaboration by creating connections with other change agents, and seed new collaborative initiatives. Learn more and register today!