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The New Climate for Business

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Leadership & Transparency
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By: Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR

We are living through an era of fundamental change. Seemingly overnight, leaders from politics and business are raising questions about whether capitalism is fit for purpose in today’s world. Bottom-up activism—from employees, high school students, and others—is challenging the status quo, posing sharp new questions and demanding urgent action. Society is struggling to develop norms and rules for the new technologies that deliver amazing promise, alongside profound questions about the nature of privacy, the health of democracy, and the future of work. Nationalism is interfering with global trade and a sense of global values to guide business. And there is increasing evidence that climate change and the loss of biodiversity can no longer be viewed as tomorrow’s problem.  

The familiar reference points that have guided us over the past several decades are falling away, and fast. It thus falls to us to make sense of what comes next, building a shared understanding of how our economy needs to develop to deliver shared prosperity in line with environmental limits.   

The BSR Conference 2019 this November will be dedicated to raising these questions and shaping answers. 

The Conference comes just before the calendar turns to a decisive decade. The 2020s will be when we determine whether we meet the challenge of shifting to a net-zero economy that solves the climate crisis and whether we achieve the profound opportunity of delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

None of this will happen without the innovative efforts of business. And all of this will play out in a fundamentally new environment for business. For companies and society both to thrive, it is essential that we quickly understand this new climate.  

At the BSR Conference 2019, we will explore key dimensions of this new climate for business, including: 

  • Is Capitalism Fit for Purpose? The growing debate over the very legitimacy of capitalism and the ability of market-led solutions to deliver economic and social outcomes that work for all. This comes at a time when people and communities are increasingly anxious about economic security and mobility and do not view governments as able to provide appropriate protections. 
  • Can Business Shift Fast Enough to Meet the Climate Challenge? The ways that business can shift to the net-zero targets that are being adopted more and more widely, with the need for business to adapt investments, business models, and governance to meet this challenge.  
  • How Should Business Address and Adapt to the New Activism? The rise of new forms of activism, with employees challenging their leaders very publicly, direct action by students, and the ongoing rise of social media models that both activate and polarize. 
  • How Do Global Businesses Navigate a Fragmented World? As we noted in the Doing Business in 2030 scenarios introduced at last year’s BSR Conference, our world is fragmenting. Nationalism is eroding support for global trade. Universal values, particularly human rights, are under attack. And our societies are growing more tribal. We are also in an era when businesses–and business leaders–are expected to use their voice constructively. Businesses have a role in advocating for open societies, social and economic fairness, and solutions to global challenges through global cooperation.  
  • Do Technology and Innovation Have Social License? The “techlash” continues to accelerate. The public is simultaneously excited and scared by new technologies that deliver unimagined capacity and connection, while seeming also to leave privacy–and democracy–damaged in their wake. This has big implications for all companies and for all forms of innovation. 

These are big questions. And they deserve bold answers.  

At our Conference, we will explore how these questions are reshaping sustainable business and what companies are doing to meet the challenge. In addition to asking these big questions, we will showcase examples of how business is meeting the challenge. We will feature leaders describing innovative new business models, products, and services; novel ways of engaging customers; and applications of new technologies and powerful collaborations—all designed with the goal of achieving the goals of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.  

What’s more, in the new climate for business, it is increasingly clear that such efforts are also central to resilient business strategies that are necessary to succeed in both a highly competitive present and a very different future.  

We hope you will join us in November to gain a greater understanding of the new climate that every business is facing and to learn about how to meet these challenges as we move into the decisive decade ahead.

Previously posted on BSR and the 3BL Media News Room

Image credit: Carles Rabada/Unsplash

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BSR is a global nonprofit organization that works with its network of more than 250 member companies and other partners to build a just and sustainable world. From its offices in Asia, Europe, and North America, BSR develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration.

Visit www.bsr.org for more information about BSR’s 25 years of leadership in sustainability.

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