Our Mission and Core Principles

Sustainability is now embraced as a core part of business. It is widely understood both inside and outside the private sector that truly resilient business strategies, and human and societal progress, depend on sustainable business action.

As we celebrate BSR’s 30th anniversary we are heartened to see the rush of business and investor interest in advancing action on ESG, and energized by the increased attention from citizens, consumers, employees, and governments.

We are also pleased by a growing recognition that meaningful action requires greater clarity about what ESG means in practice and how credible it is. If we are to meet the promise and expectations of our moment, it is more important than ever to deliver the goods. A just and sustainable world isn’t a marketing campaign or prestige project or a fad or a get-rich-quick scheme.  It’s not about incremental change slapped with an ESG label. It’s about the difficult and imperative task of ensuring that all people can thrive on a healthy planet.

We remain as sharply focused on our mission–to work with business to build a just and sustainable world–as ever. Our mission animates our work as an organization and our passion as individuals, and we are dedicated to it in all that we do. We do this with a seriousness of purpose, and an understanding that lofty ambition that is not translated into action is not what the world needs.  

BSR has always believed in engagement, and our Principles are true to that spirit. We know that many organizations express their commitment through negative screens, requiring commitments on certain topics, or scoring performance. While we respect such models, we deliberately have chosen a different path: emphasizing how we work to achieve impact. For BSR, we believe that this positive view of what we are trying to achieve is preferable to an approach focused on exclusion.

We believe that our mission must be put into action in our work with business and other partners, with a unique perspective based on three Core Principles:

  • We focus on impact in everything we do​
  • ​We make connections between issues, and between business and the wider world/stakeholders ​
  • ​We provide honest advice and insight that translates ambition into credible action​

BSR’s Project Principles

To ensure that we live up to these Core Principles, we have developed guidance for BSR teams on how to apply the Core Principles in our work with companies, in the insights we deliver, and in the recommendations that we make.  We have therefore established 16 Project Principles, which we share in their entirety here. The Project Principles are organized into three groups:

Achieving Impact

The first four Project Principles lay out how we focus on impact. They highlight the importance of building real business solutions that offer the biggest opportunities for meaningful change (thereby avoiding incrementalism). They guide us to look holistically at the ways a company might act to create change, not just on its own but also by working with value chain partners, markets, policymakers, and systems.

Understanding Business and Social Context

The next five Project Principles are based on our recommendations for a company’s particular business imperatives and opportunities, as well as relevant societal and sustainability context. We aim to ensure that companies consider not only business value, but also a full understanding of their impacts on diverse stakeholders and rightsholders, and how they can promote equity and social justice.

Taking Credible Action

The remaining seven Project Principles emphasize the need to focus on credible action.  We always seek to articulate the business value of sustainability, but we also don’t delude ourselves that everything can be a “win-win”—many cases involve difficult choices that demand leaders make tradeoffs, and take decisions based on ethics and values. However, we don’t have all the answers, so we listen to our member companies, connect them with other experts, engage with credible and ambitious standards, and support collaborative efforts and public policy solutions. Finally, we encourage transparency and accountability so that companies and their stakeholders can learn and monitor progress.

Putting the Principles into Action

After 30 years of advocating and advancing just and sustainable business, we celebrate its mainstreaming. We also believe that the essential meaning of this approach to business, and its role in society, risks getting interpreted, marketed, and implemented in ways that dilute its power and impact.  

If we do our jobs right, then many companies may think, “BSR gets our business and is an invaluable strategic partner; we value the way BSR points us to what’s needed, not just what’s comfortable.” In turn, many in civil society may think, “BSR pushes for the right impact, even though sometimes they are too focused on the private sector.”

We know that our focus on credibility, impact, and business action may make some potential partners reluctant to work with us, and we understand that. But for those willing to ask the right questions, and seek bold, meaningful answers, we look forward to partnering with you for real impact, business value, and a resilient global economy based on progress, equity and sustainability.

We invite you to join us, and explore the Principles that guide our work.