Last week San Francisco hosted the annual Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) conference for the first time since 1999.
Over the past few years, we Treehuggers have witnessed a radical evolution in the strategy shift of environmental organizations. From open-toed shoes to closed, protests to board rooms - and now Greenpeace speaks with Senor Big Mac to address rainforest protection. The big dogs are talking real, appear to be serious about their commitments, and many consumers seem to respect them as legit. In fact, one session was titled "From Confrontation to Partnership: Greenpeace and The Coca-Cola Company."
A compelling and exciting sector to observe, BSR's base of corporate catalysts work from within to push forth progress at the speed most of us would like to see. The conference attracted more executives, policymakers, and civil society leaders than ever this year with 1,350 attendees. Sentiments were high as 82% said they are optimistic that companies around the world will embrace corporate responsibility as a core business and operations strategy in the next five years.* And yes, it was all Treehugger's doing, ok, ok well, not quite, but we've watched Bentonville, Arkansas become the hotbed of Wal-Mart's greening activities almost overnight, where consulting firms and suppliers alike are setting up offices. This could be pretty promising if you consider that more than half of the 100 largest economies in the world are now global corporations — not countries, not states — companies!
No surprise here - many attendees also agreed that the energy sector has the most room for improvement. A common discussion also revolved around government getting its act together and following the lead set forth by industry. We heard from Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, that BSR initiatives should focus on policy, more specifically that CSR officials should work with their government affairs colleagues to untangle the mess of financial channels that have been established between corporations and political interests. He also noted that shareholder pressure is one of the most effective tools to institute change. Many industry leaders also felt they could only do so much, and to intensify progress would need to see some initiative from the Feds.
"Progress not perfection," as Robert B. Reich says, defines the role of today's corporation.
Also by far, one of the most enlightening sessions was "Calling All Consumers: Sustainable Consumption Patterns" where our fearless leader Graham Hill presented his latest findings. (Full disclosure: I am a full time employee of Treehugger.)
*BSR/Fleishman-Hillard Corporate Responsibility Survey Fact Sheet - 2007 BSR Conference
[This is a post by Vikash Singh and Dev Novack also contributed.]