Laura Ediger, Associate Director, Advisory Services, BSR

Tales of sustainability transformations often hinge on unexpected events, like the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. These turning points create urgency and bring a new perspective to once-ignored problems. They offer a window of opportunity and an openness to change that can chart a new course for a business or industry.

The very notion of transformation is of sweeping, dramatic change. People tell us they don’t want change that is merely incremental; they want a transformation—the kind of rapid, even disruptive, innovation that radically shifts the way things are done and motivates people to contribute their energy and resources to something new and inspiring.

We work with companies to set ambitious targets on a range of topics, from reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to new human rights policies, and even the process of deciding on an objective can take a lot of research and analysis, not to mention internal alignment. But the real work happens in the weeks and months and years that come after, when new targets and policies and business directions are actually implemented. Companies that maintain their stamina over the long term, well after the initial course has been set, get to witness transformative changes take place.

We chose the theme of the BSR Conference 2014, Transparency and Transformation, to explore this dynamic. Some sessions will look explicitly at some of the wake-up calls that we have seen in different industries, as well as what happened after. For example, the shock to the global financial system that started in 2008 prompted intensive discussions about reform. We will explore whether government and civil society responses have led to a transformation of the financial services industry.

We will also ask how companies can better prepare for unforeseen events, and how they can use their resources and influence to truly transform supply chains, sourcing economies, and entire industries. Finally, we will look at the role of organizational culture and learning from failures to encourage effective innovation and change. And we expect that our diverse participants will bring their own stories and challenges to the table as part of this conversation.

Sometimes the daily work of sustainability gets bogged down in the details, and we forget about the big picture—about the ambitious transformations that we are working toward. These discussions offer a chance to rethink what transformation truly means, and to get inspired to make it happen.


Join us at the BSR Conference 2014, taking place in New York this November 4-6.