That’s ultimately the question facing CEOs like Lord John Browne, Jeffrey Immelt, and Carlos Ghosn. To what extent will their endorsement of a new environmental ethic include new ways of working with competitors and other companies? What kinds of permission and sponsorship and commitment will leaders of environmentally responsive companies give collaborative initiatives, even when those initiatives threaten their competitive advantage and autonomy? And if they permit their engineers to engage in unprecedented forms of collaboration, will they ultimately make their companies stronger? Or weaker? Although initiatives like the Materials Pooling Project show how difficult these questions are to answer, they also show how important it will be to answer them well.
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Art Kleiner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor-in-chief of strategy+business and the author of Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success (Doubleday, 2003).