Both academia and business are realizing that the lack of collaboration can impede progress. Traditionally, university researchers compete for limited grant money, so there is little incentive to collaborate.
In a Christmas day story in The New York Times, Claudia H. Deutsch reported on several academic sustainability centers that focus on collaborating across disciplines. One is the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The article quotes Nabil Nasr, the institute’s director, as saying “the problem of sustainability cuts across economics, social elements, engineering, everything. It simply cannot be solved by one discipline, or even by coupling two disciplines.” Well said!
Now The Dow Chemical Company, through its foundation, is funding a Sustainable Products and Solutions Program at The Center for Responsible Business at the Haas School of Business at The University of California-Berkeley. Dow is providing $10 million over the next five years and sending a Dow leader to Berkeley as an executive-in-residence. Part of his role is to recruit other industry partners to fund the program. What’s compelling about the sustainability program is that the Department of Chemistry is collaborating with the business school and the program will likely involve students and faculty from other disciplines. The bottom line is that environmental and sustainability concerns run deep enough and are so complex that they’re sparking collaboration among people who would otherwise do one of three things: compete with each other, ignore one another, or remain at odds with each other.
Urgency in the environmental realm is clearly driving collaboration across disciplines, but sustainability is by no means the only area in which universities and corporations should be applying collaborative principles, practices and processes. In the business realm…marketing should be collaborating with research and development, R&D should be collaborating with information technology, sales should be collaborating with the market research group, and so on. This should be happening asynchronously and in real time.