Program Overview


Climate Sessions

Building Climate Action Step by Step

How do we increase the volume of action and the scale of ambition on climate change? Rather than waiting for a technological or political silver bullet, the evidence suggests that great strides can be made by building climate action step by step – by building a comprehensive menu of interventions that individually are pragmatic but collectively add to significant ambition. This philosophy is at the heart of BSR’s “Business in a Climate Constrained World” strategy and is increasingly the approach adopted by business. This 90-minute session will bring these wedges to life with an in-depth discussion about how they can be applied in different industries.

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Climate Change: The Greatest Human Rights Challenge of Our Time

In 2013, results from the BSR and GlobeScan annual survey on the state of sustainable business identified human rights and climate change as the top two sustainability priorities; but what is often ignored is their connection. Failure to act on climate change undermines the realization of human rights, while building climate resilience strengthens them. This one-hour session will examine how climate hazards impact a range of rights, including adequate standard of living; minimum means of subsistence; and reliable access to food, water, and health care—and the implications these connections have for business. What can businesses do to build climate resilience and strengthen their commitment to promote and respect human rights through their supply chains and the communities in which they operate?

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From Science to Action: Effective Communications on the Climate Challenge

The science is clear—we must act now to hold the global mean temperature rise to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels to avoid unprecedented climate risks to society and business. What is less clear is how to effectively communicate this urgency to business, which in turn communicates with consumers. How can we translate these risks to businesses across industries and consumers to accelerate progress on the global climate challenge? Join this one-hour conversation to learn how BSR and others have contributed to simplifying the complex language of science to empower business and consumers to action.

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Lessons in Resilience: Learning from Extreme Weather Events

Recent extreme weather in New York and around the world have brought the heightened danger of climate-related weather events into sharp focus. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy created more than US$70 billion of damage in New York and New Jersey alone and prompted a weeklong shutdown of the Port of New York. One year later, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the Philippines, killing almost six thousand people and leaving more than a half million people displaced. This one-hour discussion will address how extreme weather events are changing our understanding of climate risk. How can the private sector act to make business and society more resilient in a climate-constrained world, and what steps are companies already taking to respond to anticipated future risks?

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Using Innovative Financing to Fund Climate Resilience

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that we are on a path to a global mean temperature rise in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C by the end of the century. Much of this increase is already materializing, and the expectations of businesses to “manage the unavoidable” are increasing. Extreme weather events will have impacts throughout the business value chain, from access to raw materials to logistics and stability of operations. This thought-provoking one-hour session will highlight innovative financing vehicles, such as climate bonds, that companies are using to fund climate resiliency. The session will also have a “game show” format that will test participants’ knowledge on the science of climate change and allow them to make a small contribution to preserving our valuable ecosystems, all in real time.

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Hot Topics

Hot Topics Sessions

Building Bridges: The Global-Local Connection in Building Sustainability Strategies

With tens or even hundreds of subsidiaries around the world, multinational companies face challenges aligning global and local strategies while adapting to the local context. Companies and individuals need to overcome different understandings of priorities and context, limited internal capacity and bandwidth to manage multiple markets, and different communication and cultural styles. What are the new approaches and methodologies necessary to meet local needs and develop, align, and integrate global sustainability strategies? What are the most effective approaches for staffing, capacity building, learning, and experience sharing? This timely one-hour conversation will address these issues.

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ESG Analyst for an Hour: Think like an Investor

Everyone asks what investors think about sustainability; in this session, we’ll look at how they think about it. Participants will get to be ESG (environmental, social, and governance) analysts for an hour, with experienced SRI (socially responsible investment) and ESG analysts leading the group through the processes investors use to gather and analyze company information, what they are looking for, what drives them crazy or makes their job easier, and how companies can improve their stakeholder transparency and investor relations to better reach their target audiences. This one-hour session will be highly interactive, with participants working together to analyze a company’s ESG exposure and strategy.

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Next Generation Product Innovation: Tackling Inequalities

This one-hour dialogue featuring companies on the cutting-edge of product innovation will explore how cutting-edge companies are working to identify business opportunities to create inclusive products and solutions. The panelists will offer a candid perspective on the opportunities and challenges in developing and rolling them out. They will share their views on whether innovation around inclusive products helps tackle the roots of inequality, and how they think companies can best address the growing challenge of inequality going forward.

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Perspectives on “Unburnable Carbon” and Divestment from Fossil Fuels

Investors on both sides of the Atlantic have been in a heated debate about divesting from fossil fuels since the Carbon Tracker Initiative released its report stating that 60 to 80 percent of fossil fuel company reserves are “unburnable” if we are to limit global warming to the 2 degrees or less recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The debate raises fundamental questions: Is financial divestment a desirable and feasible strategy for driving or supporting a shift to lower carbon alternatives? What impact can the divestment movement have on the global energy industry in the short and long term? What specific strategies can investors adopt to support a low-carbon economy? Join us in this one-hour conversation to unpack the financial, tactical, and moral arguments on both sides of the divestment debate.

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Responsible Business in Myanmar, Asia’s Frontier Market

Democratic reforms since 2011, the lifting of U.S. sanctions in 2012, and a marked increase in foreign investment ahead of the 2015 elections—given these positive changes, international business is becoming much more involved in Myanmar. But will these developments truly enhance the prospects for an inclusive, sustainable economy? While a flurry of “ethical” investors is focused on Myanmar, many have looked, listened, learned, and left. Meanwhile, capital inflows from China and other regional investors are filling the gaps. How can responsible business proactively engage with stakeholders in Myanmar to catalyze sustainable development? With insights from companies operating in or considering investing in the country, this one-hour conversation will highlight the tremendous opportunity to get things right from the beginning in Myanmar. It will focus on proactively seeking localized, collaborative solutions through transformative partnerships and transparent dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders.

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The Great Transition: What Will Deliver a Sustainable Energy Future?

There are diverse views about what an energy system that stabilizes GHG emissions at 2° of warming could look like. But aside from particular conservation measures and ratios of fuel sources, what are the key beliefs and assumptions about what it will take to get there? Many see the core job as putting a price on carbon and making methodical investments in “least cost” reductions. Others place more faith in the profit motive and technology breakthroughs. Others think about the future differently altogether. This one-hour discussion will present cutting-edge perspectives on the theory and practice of creating a sustainable energy future.

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Using Sustainability to Move Markets

It is the virtuous circle of marketing: Make your product so desirable that everyone must have it now. But can marketers achieve this same dynamic with sustainability? Can mainstream, mass-market brands motivate their consumers to buy into sustainable lifestyles? In this one-hour session, learn from influential brands and marketing innovators in a conversation about how to engage more consumers in sustainability.

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Welcome to the Future: Technology and the Sustainability Challenge

This dynamic 90-minute session will provide participants the opportunity to see and discuss emerging technologies that will dramatically affect and even transform our everyday lives over the next 10 to 20 years. Collaborating with a leading futurist and sustainability thinker, the group will identify and consider the sustainability opportunities and risks presented by these new technologies. Participants will come away from the session with a better understanding of some of these fascinating technologies and their sustainability implications, as well as a stronger sense of how to proactively apply sustainability thinking to your own industry’s technological advances.

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Inclusive Economy

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Inclusive Economy Sessions

Business in a Post-2015 World: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals

Twenty fifteen will be a landmark year in global efforts to alleviate poverty and chart a new pathway to development progress, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) building upon and replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In this 90-minute open-concept session, participants will engage in a dynamic conversation about how the sustainability community can effectively leverage these frameworks to support the development of a more inclusive economy in 2015 and beyond. We will pose questions such as: How will the post-2015 SDGs differ from the MDGs, and what’s the opportunity for business to engage? What have we learned about how business can contribute to global development? Why is poverty alleviation important for business in the short-, medium-, and long-term?

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Can Voluntary Frameworks Ensure Companies Respect Human Rights?

Three years after the release of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, many companies have made significant strides in their commitment to respect human rights, while others have yet to publically embrace the UN’s guidance. As a result, some stakeholders have called for stricter, binding requirements that would require companies to conduct human rights due diligence. And yet, other stakeholders point to the tremendous impact the Guiding Principles have had to date. They argue that the solution isn’t binding requirements, but rather greater focus and effort on using them as a tool to raise the bar on human rights for all companies. This one-hour debate-style session will delve into the question of whether the Guiding Principles are meeting their objectives or whether binding requirements would spur progress.

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Corporate Responsibility in the Age of Inequality

Growing inequality has been called the defining challenge of our time. Oxfam found that the wealth of the richest 1 percent in the world amounts to 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the population. Many observers are pointing the finger at business on issues, such as executive pay, taxes, minimum wage, etc. Others feel governments and civil society actors have failed to deliver on their part of the social contract. Current robust corporate responsibility efforts often focus on basic human rights protections, occupational health and safety, and environmental stewardship, without specifically addressing inequality issues. As more companies find themselves in the spotlight in the inequality debate, we must ask ourselves: How should corporate responsibility evolve in the age of inequality? How can companies transform their business models to cultivate more inclusive economies that deliver mutual benefits?

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Creating Good Jobs: The Path to Progress

Good jobs can be loosely defined as providing adequate income, supporting employee well-being, and allowing for mobility. In global supply chains and operations, the social benefit infrastructure provided by national governments is often limited, creating risks for businesses that do not promote their employees’ health and financial well-being. In more mature markets, hourly employees also often lack social protection benefits critical to supporting their well-being. In both contexts, low-skill jobs provide limited opportunities for professional advancement and social mobility, which are critical to combating poverty and inequality. How can companies design interventions to promote quality jobs, especially for high-risk employees in their operations and supply chains? Join us for an important one-hour discussion to explore potential solutions.

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Investing for Prosperous and Inclusive Communities

Companies from all industries face the challenge of mitigating their negative impacts and increasing their positive impacts on local communities, often with small community investment budgets. Meanwhile, community members increasingly expect more from companies, particularly as inequality grows. This session focuses on community investment and seeks to answer questions such as: How can companies shift from one-time philanthropic investments to a participatory process to design and implement strategic, sustainable community investments? What common challenges must companies face when making this transition? What are some reliable approaches for evaluating the outcomes and impact of community investments? This one-hour session will bring together perspectives from corporate players and a community empowerment organization.

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Transformation Sessions

Creating a More Resilient Supply Chain: The Case of Coffee

How can companies address supply chain, community, and ecosystem impacts in a holistic way that improves resilience in the face of climate change? As a powerful case study, McDonald’s will describe its innovative efforts and will explain how they engage their value chains, including by forming partnerships with third parties such as Rainforest Alliance. The session will pose provocative questions such as: How do we know farmers are better off under these programs? How do we measure their impact? How do we wrestle with tough issues, such as the debate between Fair Trade (more money in the pockets of growers) and Rainforest Alliance (total impact)?

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Five Years Later: Has There Been Sustainable Change in the Financial Services Sector?

The past five years have been transformational times for financial services companies on both core business and corporate responsibility levels. Government, stakeholders, and civil society have intensely focused on creating a more responsible financial services industry. Within this context, how much has changed inside the industry? Do these companies interact differently with their clients on sustainability issues? This one-hour session will look at the impacts of the financial crisis on the financial services industry, and how it has affected the ways financial institutions manage their businesses, invest clients’ money, and work with clients on sustainability leadership.

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Impact Sourcing and Investing: Innovative Approaches to Sustainable Supply Chains

Global supply chains provide critical jobs and capital, which can help people around the world raise their standard of living and improve their social mobility. Leading companies are experimenting with different investing methods to maximize these benefits within their own supply chains. For example, impact sourcing seeks to create jobs for people with limited opportunities for sustainable employment—often in low-income areas. Meanwhile, impact investing continues to grow as a sector that generates measurable social and environmental impacts alongside a financial return. Other companies are investing in innovative efforts to empower supply chain workforces at the sector level. This 90-minute interactive session will explore examples from several BSR members who are experimenting with these transformative approaches in their global supply chains.

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Never Let a Failure Go to Waste

We rarely like to admit when we’ve made a mistake. Particularly when it comes to expensive or cutting-edge experiments and innovations, we don’t want to tell the boss who took a chance on us that we didn’t get it right. But failure can inform innovation, and sharing that failure can help others avoid the same pitfalls. This one-hour session will explore why failing often, early, and openly can transform sustainable business.

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Planning for the Unplanned: The Role of Corporate Responsibility in Unforeseen Events

Most corporations have gradually built their approaches to corporate responsibility through long-term strategic planning and orderly business integration. But in some cases, major unplanned events have thrust corporations into the spotlight, requiring an immediate paradigm shift in approaches to corporate responsibility. These events can stem from a market disruption (e.g., technological breakthroughs), humanitarian crisis (e.g., natural disasters), or breaking news event (e.g., Rana Plaza). This one-hour session will explore shocks to the corporate responsibility system, how teams can better prepare for unplanned events, and how some corporations have effectively used their market presence and infrastructure to become transformational corporate responsibility leaders in times of great uncertainty.

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Transparency Sessions

Big Data: Friend or Foe?

The amount of information we save, store, and share digitally is growing at a rapid pace. This big data and the sophisticated analytics it enables give us the power to address sustainability challenges in smarter, more informed, and more effective ways. But big data can be costly from an energy and materials use perspective, and raises important questions about privacy, security, and freedom of expression. This one-hour conversation will explore how big data is used by companies and civil society to change behavior and address sustainability challenges as well as what happens if data gets in the wrong hands. How can companies and civil society use it to change behavior and address sustainability challenges? What happens if data gets into the wrong hands? What types of assumptions are made about individuals without their knowing? What special responsibilities arise when business collects big data?

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BSR in the Hot Seat: Ask Me Anything (AMA)

Social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and web Q&As like Reddit’s infamous AMA sessions (“Ask Me Anything”) have broken down the barriers between the public and business executives, politicians, and celebrities. In keeping with the Transparency theme of the BSR Conference 2014, we’ll put members of BSR’s executive team in the hot seat, where they will field open questions from the audience and Twitter about anything and everything, with a focus on topics related to BSR’s work (no, we won’t break any non-disclosure agreements!) and challenges in the sustainable business field. Watch live, or follow at #BSRhotseat.

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Changing the Conversation: Addressing Tough Issues through Proactive Transparency

Beyond a threat to react to, transparency is also an opportunity to change the conversation on the big issues of the day and transform our collective approaches to complex challenges. Internet and telecommunications companies have voluntarily lifted the veil on how much personal information they share with law enforcement agencies to dramatic effect. Apparel companies have proactively made their supply chain impacts more transparent to raise the profile of industry-wide challenges. This 60-minute collaborative session will address how smart approaches to transparency can change the policy landscape and increase the momentum for substantive reform.

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Product Transparency, Consumer Engagement, and ROI

From certification labels to eco-rankings to carbon footprints, an increasing number of brands and retailers are making their products’ sustainability attributes more transparent to consumers. This lively one-hour session will examine companies’ efforts around transparency by exploring the challenges and opportunities, mechanics of consumer engagement, benefits to the brand, and impact on product sustainability itself. How does greater transparency provide returns to business? How has transparency led to improvements in product and materials sustainability? What are the best ways to engage consumers through greater transparency?

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Transparency in Human Rights Due Diligence

Companies are under increasing pressure to disclose findings from their human rights impact assessments. At the same time, too much disclosure can create risk for the stakeholders that human rights assessments are meant to protect. It can also damage important relationships with host governments who may be implicated by the assessments’ findings, jeopardizing the company’s ability to influence a government’s human rights approach. This one-hour session will explore the proper balance between transparency and confidentiality for companies in all sectors that are conducting human rights due diligence.

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