By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact
After a weekend at Bioneers, with luminaries such as Michael Pollan and Joanna Macy, yesterday I headed to the Hyatt in San Francisco for BSR’s conference: Reset Economy. Reset World: Delivering Business Value by Thinking Big and Embracing Long-Term Sustainability Trends.
BSR works with a global network of more than 250 member companies to develop sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration. Upon entering, the sea of black suits, high heels and ties reminded me I was no longer hanging out with activists and social change professionals.
Overall, the attendees I met were sustainability professionals at the conference to network (some were skipping the sessions all together), while others were hungry to learn about best practices and new sustainability tools.
While I did attend several sessions, somehow the format didn’t allow in-depth dialogue to occur on important issues beyond the conversation between the guest speaker and the moderator and a few questions from the audience.
The real value add was the amazing breath of global sustainability professionals I had the chance to meet and the conversations that took place during breaks and the evening reception. I think sustainability professionals are ready for a new conference model that allows more opportunities for dialogue and interaction and less time listening to talking heads in plenary sessions!
A Few Highlights
The agenda included multiple tracks ranging from CSR Basics to Human Rights to Sustainability, requiring attendees to make some tough choices. I liked the fact that all three sessions I attended featured women.
A few highlights:
Walking the Talk: The standard conference goodies were offered in a bag especially made for BSR by Levi Strauss & Company. This is no ordinary conference tote–it is a really cool bag that is partly organic cotton, carbon neutral and locally made. The Nalgene water bottle is BPA free. The 78-page program was printed on Mohawk FSC-certified, 100% post-consumer-waste fiber (will need to ask the Mohawk booth tomorrow how post-consumer waste fiber can be FSC-certified). Nice touches that showed a commitment to integrating sustainability into the conference planning.
Morning Plenary: As summarized in a great recap post by GreenBiz.com, BSR President Aron Cramerlaid laid out five elements of a successful strategy for companies that want to make a big impact on the environment and society:
1. A positive impact on public policy;
2. Technological innovations to deal with climate change;
3. Achieving innovations in efficiency right now;
4. A recommitment to working within value chains; and
5. Communication across suppliers, customers and policymakers.
A Conversation with Pamela Passman: Pamela, the Corporate Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, at Microsoft Corporation, discussed the importance of industry and NGO partnerships. She stressed, “We have learned over the years, you must engage.” They reach out to a broad set of stakeholders. When asked what drives their stakeholder engagement she replied, “It is part of our corporate DNA.” And part of stakeholder engagement includes ways to help customers be more energy efficient. As part of the release of Windows 7, they just launched a new web site and competition called 7 Ways to Change the World, encouraging customers to describe ideas for how to help their local community. The moderator Zachary Karabell ended the session by complimenting Microsoft on their willingness to share and be honest about lessons learned from their mistakes.
The Role of Corporate Boards and Corporate Responsiblity: Aron Cramer, President and CEO of BSR, moderated this session with Roxanne Decyk, Executive Vice President, Global Government Relations, at Shell. The session focused on how corporate boards can shape and support a company’s sustainability agenda. Roxanne commented that while there is pressure to switch to renewable energy resources, a serious shift has not taken place yet due to the need “to protect shareholders’ investment and provide adequate returns.” That comment got my attention.
“Why isn’t mitigating climate risk part of the equation?” I asked.
Her response referred to Shell’s scenario planning efforts and the fact that lifting the world out of poverty will require access to energy and that there isn’t enough renewable energy infrastructure to provide these needs. She concluded that despite moving some investment into renewables, it is just not a good bet for shareholders, who expect a reasonable return and that will come from a flow of hydrocarbons.
OK, so I’m clearly not at Bioneers anymore.
This attitude doesn’t align with what we heard at the morning plenary. “The reset world offers huge opportunities for companies that win the race toward a low-carbon economy,” said BSR President Aron Cramer in his opening address. “The need for a less carbon-intense economy is huge, and companies that get there first will be very successful.” Sounds good, but are companies really putting this into action?
Improving Carbon Management in Your Value Chain: The final session I attended was a conversation between Mary Capozzi, Senior Director, Corporate Responsibility at Best Buy Co. and Soren Stig, Head of Sustainability at Maersk Line. This session focused on strategies for reducing carbon footprints throughout value chains. A key message: today, carbon management across the supply chain is a must-have. Best Buy is working at two levels–focusing on their own in-house footprint and secondly, helping their customers with energy efficiency and e-waste issues. Soren sees big opportunities to be 30 to 40% more efficient and to position Maersk Line to be a leader in the low carbon economy.
Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies strengthen their relationships with stakeholders, develop profitable green initiatives and communicate their successes and challenges. She is a LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.