How a Focus on Sustainability Helped an Association Find Its Global Place

10th October 2023

International trends make it harder than ever to act provincially. By rallying members around global sustainability standards, an association serving Colombian manufacturers expanded its global footprint. 

Words Mark Athitakis

A glance at the headlines these days makes it clear—if it hadn’t been already—just how much we’re connected globally. Many associations that often think of themselves as concerned only with activities in the United States have had to contend with global conflicts and international supply-chain issues that affect their members’ access to goods and services, as well as the prices they pay for them. And that, of course, comes on the heels of a still-not-over global pandemic.

A statement by Talley Management Group CEO Gregg H. Talley, FASAE, CAE, [on their website] spelled out the stakes at the current moment. Recent events, he wrote, “are now coupled with the already top-of-mind areas of increased focus on climate change, sustainability, wellness, and reduced corporate travel—all of which impact organizational and individual preferences on time management, cost, need, and risk in crossing international boundaries and long-haul travel.”

Given this ongoing transformation, I was interested in hearing about how a leading trade association in Colombia, ANDI, has been balancing an increased focus on sustainability with its goals around international outreach. According to ANDI President Bruce Mac Master, the association, which serves Colombian manufacturers across industries, has been paying attention to environmental issues since the 1990s. But in the past decade it’s sharpened its strategy around sustainability, with a dedicated committee focused on energy and mining. Those committees meet regularly to discuss legislation, regulations, and establishing “common initiatives.”

Finding common ground around those initiatives can be difficult for an association with such a wide range of members in diverse industries from finance to agriculture to healthcare. ANDI’s approach, Mac Master says, is to keep its focus on the larger strategic goal of meeting global sustainability standards. ANDI has “defined as a principle that the general interest takes precedence over the particular [industry’s] interest, which minimizes conflicts,” he says. “The positions that the association builds are normally collective.”

Those efforts have paid off: Colombia has received high marks for its sustainable practices, according to the Global Reporting Initiative and International Institute for Management Development. All of this work is meant to remove the environmental stigma the country has faced in the past and do more to attract global business, particularly sustainable ones. ANDI has promoted and implemented recycling and packaging-reduction programs across 27 economic sectors and played a role in a national effort to make Colombia a carbon-neutral country. 

Mac Master points to the investment of green companies from Spain, Norway, and Japan, combined with strong economic growth rates in Latin America, at least before the pandemic. And preserving historical sites and biodiverse areas is crucial to tourism and to the national economy as international travel increases. 

The lesson for ANDI, and just about any association anywhere, is that a strategy around sustainability and an awareness of global trends are keys to survival. For some time, Mac Master says, ANDI was fighting headwinds on this idea. 

“Other associations [in Colombia] for many years created so-called sustainability committees to oppose change,” he says. “Employers’ associations should be part of and drivers of change toward more sustainable societies and encourage their members to be among the leaders of this.” 

This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. Copyright ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership (March 2022), Washington, DC.”

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