Before the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, before sustainability reports or chief sustainability officers, and before the idea of stakeholders was used widely, a new vision of business emerged.
This was a vision of business as a force for positive social change—a force that would preserve and restore natural resources, ensure human dignity and fairness, and operate transparently.
This vision can be traced back to gatherings of the Social Venture Network (SVN), a group of socially minded entrepreneurs who pioneered many of the purpose-driven businesses that emerged in the second half of the 1980s. In 1991, SVN members such as Josh Mailman, Mal Warwick, and Judy Wicks led the creation of the first version of BSR, which was designed to serve as the voice of progressive businesses in policy formation in Washington, D.C. The following year, in 1992, Business for Social Responsibility was launched, with 51 member companies and an inaugural event featuring Ben & Jerry’s Cofounder Ben Cohen, the Body Shop Founder Anita Roddick, and Stonyfield Farms Cofounder Gary Hirshberg.
In 1993, BSR hosted its first annual Conference, welcoming U.S. President Bill Clinton as a speaker and attracting 300 participants. By the end of that year, BSR had assimilated many statewide and regional groups, such as Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. By 1994, however, the BSR board concluded that the organization’s mission of influencing public policy should change, and the board switched BSR’s organizational approach to something we have applied ever since: Working with companies to integrate social and environmental considerations into their core business.
To refine and implement this strategy, BSR recruited Bob Dunn as CEO, and drew on his experiences as the head of corporate affairs at Levi Strauss & Co., where he spearheaded the adoption of the first code of conduct for supply chain labor practices. Dunn and BSR Chairman Arnold Hiatt developed the BSR model that remains in place today.