As the year winds down, we have been reflecting on the sustainability developments that defined 2013, as well as BSR’s biggest highlights of the year and the topics that most intrigued you.

The Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, which claimed more than 1,000 lives and has been labeled the deadliest workplace disaster in recent history, served as a stark reminder that much work remains to ensure transparent, equitable supply chains. Immediately after that event, we put together our collective thoughts on what’s at stake, the challenges that endure, and the actions that need to be taken to prevent future calamities.

Vice President for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa Peder Michael Pruzan-Jorgensen pointed to the new business collaborations that formed following the tragedy as an important step forward. The U.S.-based Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Europe-based Accord on Fire Safety in Bangladesh came to an agreement recently with the government of Bangladesh on unified standards for factory safety and inspections.

But solutions to systemic challenges are not simple, and they are not quick. Rather, events like Rana Plaza represent what BSR Senior Vice President Eric Olson refers to as the “death knell” of our traditional approaches to improving supply chains. “There is now widespread recognition that only holistic, systems-level approaches that involve multiple sectors and extend beyond the factory walls have a shot at making a difference,” he said.

BSR Vice President for Asia-Pacific Jeremy Prepscius said that this kind of holistic solution must "be built on credible governance models, create public data, and actually engage workers.”  Prepscius predicted that defining a new approach to replace the current audit-based supplier engagement model would be an important theme in 2014.

BSR executives also noted a shift this year in concerns about climate change. Olson described the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report as “a watershed moment in driving more mainstream concern and action on climate change.” The report, coupled with catastrophic events like Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, underscored the urgent need to address climate change and build resilience into our communities, infrastructure, and business strategies.

BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer said the shift in the U.S. energy mix toward more renewables was also a strong signal coming from one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters. “According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, renewable energy has accounted for one-third of new energy capacity in the United States,” Cramer noted. “Solar more than doubled its capacity from 2012, contributing 20.5 percent of new capacity.”

BSR leaders identified developments in sustainability reporting as a third important change in 2013. The three most prominent sustainability reporting initiatives, the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Integrated Reporting Council, and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, released new guidance for integrated reporting. Cramer characterized this as a “highly significant” shift, and Advisory Services Managing Director Dunstan Allison-Hope added that the three reporting frameworks “disrupt the corporate responsibility reporting profession, which will be reshaped over the next five years.”  

BSR’s Major Initiatives in 2013

BSR’s 2013 highlights center around the launch of two major initiatives aimed at helping business address issues related to global climate change and inequality.

Business in a Climate-Constrained World focuses on how we’ll work with business to inspire ambitious action on climate change to avoid dangerous global warming and manage the impacts that are already locked in. This year, we released a series of articles sharing our perspectives and initial approach, and we will publish our first report in early 2014, which will be followed by additional research, content, and events.

Business Leadership for an Inclusive Economy strives to spur business action to build an inclusive global economy that helps people participate in, benefit from, and contribute to the economy, society, and a healthy environment. We’ll have more on this in 2014, including a foundational report and series of articles.

And we released a series highlighting our BSR Conference 2013 theme “The Power of Networks,” with perspectives from sustainability experts on how we can harness our networks—whether social, business, or multistakeholder—to solve the world's toughest sustainability challenges.

For BSR, the "Power of Networks" is embodied in our collaborative initiatives, or multiple-company groups that work together on issues that are too large for any one company to address alone. BSR Advisory Services Managing Director Laura Gitman cited the launch or expansion of three major initiatives in 2013—the Guiding Principles on Access to Healthcare, the Future of Fuels, and the Sustainable Lifestyles Frontier Group—as “demonstrative of the power of collaboration in driving systemic change.” Gitman also pointed out that this kind of work will be central to BSR’s focus in the coming year. “We look forward to deepening our collaboration with member companies, partners, and other stakeholders in 2014,” she said.