A Call for Collaboration in BSR Initiatives
By Eric Olson, Senior Vice President, Advisory Services, BSR
BSR’s President and CEO Aron Cramer opened our recent 20th anniversary Conference in New York by laying out a vision for pushing “Fast Forward” on sustainability that features collaboration as a critical ingredient for our collective success. He gave three reasons for redoubling our focus on collaboration:
- Business will only get so far in truly integrating sustainability without systems that create the right rules and incentives.
- We cannot sit back and rely on government–or any other single institution—to deliver those rules and incentives for us.
- There is immense power in the network of companies and other partners BSR has assembled over the last 20 years—power that we have only just begun to tap.
Cramer went on to describe BSR’s commitment to launching more multiyear, multistakeholder efforts to tackle complex sustainability questions, thereby supporting the growing global portfolio of work we do for individual member companies that seek to integrate sustainability into their strategies and operations. We got a chance to see what that might look like in Conference sessions and side meetings during the rest of that week in New York, and I would like to share some highlights and invite you to join us in areas of mutual interest.
In a session entitled “Beyond Incrementalism” that I led with Justin Adams, partner and cofounder of Beyond, we described the new Collaboration Laboratory–or “Co-Lab”–that BSR will launch in 2013 to connect companies to funders, entrepreneurs, and external stakeholders (such as NGOs and the public sector) to develop and scale solutions to systemic challenges that companies cannot solve alone. Our first set of projects will focus on opportunities at the intersection of the food, energy, and water sectors, such as developing more “resource smart” agriculture and addressing food waste on a large scale. While there are many initiatives already working on or touching similar issues, almost all of them are project-based initiatives that struggle to scale.
We also discussed the opportunity to take BSR’s highly effective women’s economic development initiative, HERproject, to further scale by seeking new institutional partners and business models that will allow us to expand the benefits from the current 200,000 to as many as 10 million women working in the global supply chains of our member companies. Stay tuned for more information about Co-Lab and our first set of projects in early 2013.
Later in the week, I led a session on sustainable products that featured an in-depth discussion with experts from Walmart, Dell, AT&T, and the Sustainability Consortium (TSC) on the critical role played by collaborative efforts in establishing the common definitions and credible standards that will be essential to consumer acceptance of more sustainable products. Collaboration also offers the benefit of accelerated and cost-effective learning in a space that can be bewildering in its complexity. In this context, we discussed BSR’s Center for Sustainable Procurement, a multi-company effort sponsored by Hilton Worldwide that aims to help procurement professionals use the best available sustainability data and information (from efforts such as TSC) to make better purchasing decisions. We have pilot projects underway in which we are tackling the business case for purchasing more sustainable products in specific categories, in part by integrating sustainability data into existing procurement approaches, such as total cost of ownership. We are currently talking to additional companies that would like to be a part of our next wave of cases, so please contact us soon if you might be interested.
We also used the occasion of the BSR Conference 2012 to convene our Future of Fuels working group, which brings together large-scale fuel users such as UPS, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Nike, and the U.S. Department of Defense and energy producers such as Shell and Suncor, with experts from the NGO and government sectors to create a common road map for promoting more sustainable transportation fuels. We recently published our first draft paper on the total sustainability impacts of fuels (open for public comment), and the group is now working on a second paper and related stakeholder dialogues that will consider how we can best promote more sustainable transportation fuel options. This next phase will take us deep into consideration of the industry best practices that can be employed to improve the impacts of different fuel types. We will also consider a wide range of current and proposed public policy and other mechanisms that might be usefully deployed to steer the overall economy toward a more sustainable energy future. In line with this exciting challenge, we are looking to expand participation in the Future of Fuels group to additional fuel users, transportation services, infrastructure providers, and energy producers. Contact us if you would like to know more.
These are just a few of the multisector initiatives and industry working groups that BSR will continue to lead in 2013 and beyond, and we will be making every effort to involve more of you in areas of greatest mutual interest and benefit.
To read more of BSR's insights on business and sustainability, visit our website at www.bsr.org.
*This article originally appeared in the BSR Insight on Tuesday November 20, 2012.