Government and industry are always better when they’re together. When they work in tandem as public-private partnerships, everyone benefits: consumers, citizens, the bottom line, and the planet.
What Are Public-Private Partnerships?
Public-private partnerships (P3s) are contractual arrangements in which government agencies and private firms join forces to achieve a shared goal. These goals range from single, short-term projects to long-term collaborative arrangements. In the U.S., P3s quietly form the backbone of many of the socioeconomic structures we depend on but rarely notice, from our financial regulatory system to the scientific, infrastructural, and environmental developments that enable and empower a modern society.
One would be justified in asking why government agencies with regulatory authority would partner with the very firms they regulate on a project. This divide in perspective and role turns out to be one of the greatest strengths of public-private partnerships: they allow both governments and businesses to do what they do best.
Governments have the broad regulatory authority to carve out a space for large-scale projects. In cases like infrastructure or environmental works, they often have the sole authority to approve or deny projects, as well as the legislative might to create incentives for innovation. Private industry, though, excels at the quick and efficient project completion that traditionally eludes bureaucratic government agencies. Partnerships allow both parties to achieve more, more quickly, and on a tighter budget.
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Joining Forces for Sustainability
Sustainability presents a host of challenges which public-private partnerships are particularly suited to tackle. Fundamentally, corporate sustainability efforts and the regulatory environment that incentivizes them have primed businesses to speak the language of sustainability. Sustainability reporting is increasingly expected both by regulators and shareholders, and businesses have adapted to this reality with enhanced sustainability data collection and analysis tools. All this puts modern corporations in an excellent place to project and analyze the environmental impact of their projects.
Governments, on the other hand, both face public pressure to enact sustainable policy and possess the broad authority and resources to do so. They’re also experts at raw data collection (as recent controversies over online privacy might suggest). Unquestionably, they have the monitoring capabilities to capture truly vast quantities of environmental data. Despite recent political shifts, the U.S. public remains broadly in support of sustainable policies, and this provides incentive for the creation and implementation of environmentally friendly public works.
Sustainability P3s in Action
Early and contemporary examples demonstrate the impact that public-private partnerships can have on sustainability. In New York City, the Central Park Conservancy – a private nonprofit organization founded “to restore, manage, and enhance Central Park in partnership with the public” – has partnered with the city government since the 1980s to accomplish its mission statement more effectively and efficiently than the city could alone. Since its founding it has invested more than $600 million towards the park’s upkeep, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the park’s annual budget.
Since early 2017, AT&T has partnered both directly with the City of Atlanta and with Georgia Power, a private energy company, to implement its Smart Cities initiative. The initiative has led to the installation of smart, IoT-compatible utility meters, street lights, and water systems. These improvements can improve public safety and keep track of infrastructural conditions as well as help to reduce water and energy waste by letting cities and utilities more closely monitor and thereby optimize resource use.
Data: Driving Sustainable Projects
The latter case also illustrates the key role that sustainability reporting data metrics play in sustainable public-private partnerships. AT&T’s Smart Cities’ “Powered by GE” page calls on visitors to “imagine a lamp post that could help lower civic costs, increase efficiencies,” and “drive economic growth.”
By developing smart technologies that can monitor and report local energy consumption patterns, companies like AT&T gain access to a ready market: cities hoping to optimize their infrastructural energy use, save money, and reduce their carbon footprints. That’s good for the environment, the city’s image, and the corporate partner’s bottom line. We’d call that a win-win scenario.
What are your thoughts on public-private partnerships? If you have firsthand experience in the space, or if you’re interested in joining the conversation, we’d love to hear from you on Twitter. And if you’re ready to learn more about how utility data can power sustainability efforts for organizations of all sizes, click here.
- Integrated Reporting: The New Norm
- An Open Letter to Sustainability Software Providers
- Webinar: The Sustainability Ecosystem
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About Nick Arehart
Nick Arehart is a marketing intern at Urjanet who specializes in financial services and sustainability. He's passionate about content that informs and inspires. When he isn't writing for us, he's finishing up his chemistry degree at Emory University.