On the occasion of BSR’s 25th anniversary, we have taken the opportunity to consider our accomplishments. With our member companies and other partners, we are proud to have imagined and worked toward a new vision of business that creates prosperity and fairness for all and preserves the natural environment on which we all depend.
Looking back is important; there is much to learn. But it is even more essential to look ahead: BSR, and the sustainable business movement more broadly, have always been about the future, and we must maintain that focus. This focus on what’s next is even more urgent today, when so many aspects of business, the economy, and culture are changing in profound ways.
And as we look ahead, it is clear that the time is here for a new approach to sustainable business. Many of the conditions that inspired the creation of BSR—a growing sense of resource scarcity and climate change, an increasingly interconnected world, and the rise of the purpose-driven business—have only accelerated over the past 25 years.
The need to reinvent, however, is shaped by three big developments that are creating a new context. First, business is undergoing systematic change—disruption—that is challenging every enterprise to reorient its strategy and approach. Second, we have a clear and universal roadmap for sustainable development, best expressed through the Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Third, governance gaps—and failures—create the need for business to lead the way, often in partnership with others, if we are to achieve our shared goals.
Business as usual won’t get the job done—and sustainability as usual won’t suffice. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, build truly fair and inclusive economic growth, and navigate a radically reshaped world, it is time for change. Put more positively, we have within our grasp the ability to reorient business and turn the tide on climate change, deliver economic opportunity for all, and build connected societies in which all people can live in dignity and with respect.
For the companies that are addressing these challenges head on, there is the promise of remarkable innovation—not only in technology, but also in business models, partnerships, products and services, and ways of engaging consumers. What’s more, many of the new strategic imperatives for companies have the potential to bring massive improvements in sustainability. The changes that are emerging could deliver great leaps forward—through both direct and indirect means. For example, progress on climate is coming through ambitious targets and through technological innovation that is enabling a clean energy revolution, and digital payment systems have the potential for greater transparency and financial literacy for people in all corners of the world.
With these changes in mind, we believe it is time for a new agenda, new approach, and new advocacy. In other words, it is time for business and other partners to embrace new issues, new ways of pursuing sustainability, and a new—and more assertive—voice. Sustainable business leadership will increasingly be defined by how well companies approach climate resilience; inclusive growth in an era of automation; and technology, human rights, and ethics.
BSR was founded on the belief that a just and sustainable world is within our grasp, and that business is central to realizing that vision. We are as just as motivated today by this belief as BSR’s founders were a quarter-century ago. Never in BSR’s history has there been a time when the opportunity for impact has been so great, and the broad imperative for change so clear. That is a potent combination, and one that we aim to make the most of by working with you.
Today, we are excited to launch a paper that offers our thinking on where to go next. We hope this paper prompts new thinking, identifies new opportunities, and encourages you to join with us in redefining sustainable business.
It serves as an invitation to collaborate with us in the coming year to shape a new agenda, new approach, and a new voice for business that will meet our unique moment. Together, we can set a course for sustainable business, for business more broadly, and for the world.