Sunday, November 9, 2014

Three Takeaways from the BSR Conference

I plan to write-up a few in-depth posts this week but wanted to share some quick notes about the recurring themes I heard at the BSR Conference:

1. Long-term focus: across industries and professions, people spoke about the challenge of shifting market, media, and investor focus from short-term earnings to long-term financial sustainability. As social and environmental responsibility becomes less about initiatives and more integrated within business operations, meeting quarterly earnings projections becomes less pertinent to the corporate mission. We need stock analysts capable of looking beyond dollar per share, who understand and focus on social and environmental impact as a component of long-term financial stability, as well as a media willing to shift away from sensationalized ticker alarmism toward presenting a larger picture of corporate stability.

2. Collaboration: more than ever, companies are partnering together and with NGOs to answer the most difficult social and environmental challenges around the world. Look for more about collaboration in Myanmar/Burma, where companies are addressing the lack of legal and regulatory infrastructure together, with local and international NGOs, and with guidance from several arms of the UN. The challenges are too big and systemic, in Myanmar/Burma and throughout the world, to be solved by one company or NGO alone. Sustainability leaders spoke about the willingness of their companies to work together on these issues, understanding that competition and collaboration must coexist.

3.Transparency: another major message was transparency, even when the picture isn't pretty. Companies are more willing to openly discuss challenges alongside victories, to give a complete picture of their social and environmental efforts. It's no longer important to project a perfect image of errorless operations but, rather, focus on management's ability to learn from and respond to challenges and mistakes. The discussion was less about "how transparent?" and more about "how does transparency spread through the corporate culture?" through messaging and reward structures, so that employees feel free to share successes and challenges in the spirit of corporate learning.

Some of my favorite moments came when speakers gently reminded their audience the people most impacted by the initiatives discussed at the conference probably did not even know about the conference, let alone attend it. This message was not lost on the people I spoke with, and there was a deep understanding of their responsibility to look beyond the inevitable elitism of a corporate gathering. As expected, the truly inspirational moments from the conference came during the sharing of stories, moments of understanding about shared challenges, and the acknowledgement that everyone there was doing something important, no matter how small or big, to make this world a better place for everyone.

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