2021: Optimism and Resolve for the Decisive Decade

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

January 12, 2021
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

Barely a week after the world began to put 2020—and its long list of challenges, disruptions, and heartache—in the rearview mirror with some cautious optimism, an attack on American democracy has shaken the world, leaving many of us anxiously pondering whether 2021 will just be more of the same.

But as disruptive as 2020 was, and as troubling as our first week of 2021 has been, we cannot afford to lose sight of the deeper structural changes that not only continue to reshape our world, but also continue to accelerate. We opened 2020 by talking about the “decisive decade” and the need to make the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals a reality. Much has changed in the last year. That objective has not.

Indeed, it is clearer than ever that sustainable business is both a core driver of strategic advantage and an essential pathway to a just and sustainable—and resilient—world. It is time to turn from responding to unexpected disruptions to the solutions needed to create an economy that delivers truly inclusive and sustainable prosperity.

Multiple forces are converging to make sustainability a higher priority for business and the world. We know from the past year that investors are deploying capital to companies with serious plans to address climate and other core sustainability objectives. Social acceptance of new technologies and business models—including the changing nature of work itself—is more important than ever. Long-standing structural discrimination must be dismantled, not only in business but in the societies in which business operates. And, at a time when global poverty has grown for the first time in decades, when income inequality has increased, and where structural changes to the economy have displaced many people, it is essential that business generates economic opportunity where it is most needed.

We called on business throughout 2020 to “meet the moment and build the future.” This call to action remains essential for successful business, thriving societies, and a healthy natural environment.

As we turn to this new year, it is time to turn ambition to action, enabling our member companies to meet both business and sustainability objectives. In the year ahead, we will be focusing on three broad areas: (1) business transformation to meet ESG objectives, (2) decisive climate action to translate commitments into real change, and (3) creating an economy that is truly inclusive.

Business Transformation to Meet ESG Objectives

Business transformation is essential to meet the challenges of the decisive decade. We are working with our members to establish resilient business strategies with ambitious sustainability goals and, crucially, the actions needed to make these objectives a reality. These times also demand fundamental change. To that end, we are also working with companies to help build a 21st-century social contract based on principles that deliver long-term value for all stakeholders, economic and social mobility and security, climate justice, and the development of new technologies based on human rights principles, all based on principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. All these efforts are supported by foresight from our Sustainable Futures Lab, which enables companies to position themselves to anticipate and shape change in tumultuous times.

Decisive Climate Action to Translate Commitments into Real Change

On climate, 2021 will be a year in which business action pivots more decisively from ambition to action. BSR’s offerings will support this shift in three high-impact areas. We will work with companies to build resilience to climate risks and their social impacts through effective implementation of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), including scenarios to guide decision-making. We will ramp up our efforts to drive Scope 3 emissions reductions through collaborations like Transform to Net Zero and one-on-one projects with our members. And in 2021, we will create a global green freight platform that harmonizes disparate collaborations under a singular compelling program, solidifying BSR’s position as the global leader in clean freight. We will also continue to work as a proud coalition partner in We Mean Business, to help the business community speak with a powerful, unified voice in support of decisive climate action and policy.

Creating an Economy That Is Truly Inclusive

People are at the center of all BSR efforts to help companies build back better and create a more inclusive economy. In 2021, BSR will help to shape the next decade of the business and human rights agenda, including numerous efforts to work with companies in multiple sectors to ensure that new technologies and business models are built on a foundation of respect for human rights. We are actively committed to defining a vision for business leadership on DEI and to ensuring that the spate of commitments made in 2020 results in systemic, lasting change. We continue to work through HERproject and other efforts to ensure that workers—especially women—in supply chains, who have been hit so hard by COVID-19, can thrive and access livelihoods essential to their well-being.

Indeed, it is clearer than ever that sustainable business is both a core driver of strategic advantage and an essential pathway to a just and sustainable—and resilient—world.

We hope this agenda is as ambitious as our times demand. We are pursuing many other efforts with you so that we can make 2021 a year of accelerated achievement—and we welcome your continued engagement to make this vision a reality.

Last year created great pain and disruption. Saying otherwise would be insensitive in the extreme. But the experiences and impacts of 2020 also provide reasons for optimism and resolve.

As we undertake these activities, we are confident that businesses embracing this agenda will not only position themselves to thrive amidst great change, but they will also deliver the kind of solutions and opportunity that are essential for human progress. We invite you to join us in this effort, as we work with you to generate resilient business strategies that truly meet the moment and build the future. 

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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