Edge Effect

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Rob Weston:

“There is a phenomenon in systems theory we call Edge Effect. Among other things, it refers to the potentially enormous boost in productivity that occurs where two different worlds meet. On a riverbank, for instance, in the area where soil and water meet, one can find as many as ten times the diversity of species: there might be sedges, reeds and mallow, otters and wading birds, newts, toads, kingfishers and dragonflies – all drawn to the place because of its having both elements present. Weeping willow trees thrive at the edges of waterways because they require huge quantities of water; as a result of this, they can produce as much as twenty times the biomass growth rates of their landlubber cousins like oak or walnut. Other riverside plants are massively pollinated and their seeds spread over great distances because of the increased numbers of birds and insects at the earth/water margin.

Why am I writing this modern-day ‘Tales of the Riverbank’? Because Edge Effect can boost performance equally well in CSR strategies. A warning, however: one has to learn how to manage edge effect for benefits – as this is also an area where some significant challenges can appear. The interface between siblings, business partners, genders, generations, nations, departments and market sectors are areas where enormously rich potential exists for collaboration, innovation and breakthrough  – or conflict and breakdown.

In both research and in practice, my colleagues and I have been working with the Edge Effect for some time and the results can be quite remarkable. In one example, we put a major construction company’s procurement team together with their suppliers to explore sustainability and community issues in a hospital construction project. In the past, the procurement team had always focused primarily on minimizing costs with each contractor. In this case, however, they discovered unexpected win/win situations. The roofing contractors, for example, would never have been able to double the insulation thickness, as the cost would have made them uncompetitive and they would have lost the contract. In this case they were able to do a deal with the plumbing contractors, who, as a result of the increased insulation, were now fitting much less heating and cooling equipment and everybody gained. Energy and cash were saved, awards were won, post-construction maintenance contracts became much more competitive.” (http://groundswell.co.uk/how-to-multiply-the-roi-on-your-csr-by-20-to-30-times/)