BSR Conference 2019

The New Climate for Business

November 12-14, 2019 San Jose, California

Sessions and Workshops

Speakers to be announced as the program develops throughout the year. Sessions and workshops are subject to change.

Photos from breakout sessions

A ‘Future of Work’ That Works for Women

The rise of automation and the flourishing of artificial intelligence, among many other new and profound disruptions, stand to transform labor markets around the world in a manner that holds significant implications for women in the workplace. It remains to be seen, however, whether the new dynamics of the “Future of Work” will help or hinder progress toward gender parity in the workplace. This panel will explore how companies are addressing the shifting work scenarios and disruptive technologies to ensure their female workforce is being adequately supported, afforded equal opportunities to advance, and are actively involved in creating the technology tools and solutions being deployed. Hear from a select group of corporate decision-makers working to minimize the risks to women’s employment and maximize the opportunity for women to succeed.

Advancing Gender Equality to Tackle Climate Change

As the effects of climate change continue to exacerbate poverty, inequality, and other social issues, the solutions we put forth must include social focus—including empowering women to be leaders on climate action. The international community—with the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan in 2017—is prioritizing women’s leadership on climate change solutions. Business, too, can act by empowering women leaders to act on climate throughout their value chains. Learn how doing so is a win-win-win for business, women, and society.

Aligning Materiality and Risk Management to Ignite Change

While a materiality assessment is a key tool for sustainability teams, it is too often developed in silo from other corporate tools such as enterprise risk management (ERM). There are opportunities to align materiality and ERM processes in a way that can build stronger connections to serve the core business. This interactive session will use a live example to understand connections between materiality and risk management and explore opportunities to bridge and enhance both risk and sustainability assessments. 

Beyond Case Studies: Measuring and Communicating Total Impact

After years of focus on footprints and case studies, attention is now squarely on the sustainability impacts of an entire company and the products and services that generate its revenue. How can a company evaluate, measure, and enhance its impacts? Learn directly from the companies and investors deploying innovative new models to make sustainability part of the revenue model—driving greater impact and revenue in the process.

Big Hairy Audacious Goals: Pilot Testing from the Field

Today’s rapidly changing world requires companies to make big bets in order to achieve their future goals—but how do they make the initial leap? There are innumerable factors to weigh before identifying the right pilot and testing it. And once a pilot is in place, how do companies transition to scaling the program to meet the desired commitment? Join us for this candid discussion and learn from companies that have made progress on their ambitious goals.

Building Stakeholder Trust in 2019

In 2019, the question of how to build and retain trust—among investors, regulators, customers, suppliers, civil society organizations, and the general public—is the most pressing challenge facing business. The stakes have never been higher. The average tenure of a business on the S&P 500 shrank from 33 years in 1964 to 24 years in 2016 and is forecast to last a mere 12 years by 2027. Competition, innovation and technological disruption, while important drivers, tell only part of the story. If a business is not trusted by its stakeholders, it will not be able to maintain revenue, let alone grow, and soon may find its very existence imperiled. Therefore, approaches to stakeholder engagement have shifted their focus from managing risk to building trust. This interactive workshop will explore how to refine and evolve stakeholder engagement efforts to respond to these new dynamics.

Business and the Biodiversity Crisis

In the coming decades, 1 million of the world’s 8 million plant and animal species are at risk of disappearing from Earth. Business intervention has never been more important. In advance of the 2020 Biodiversity Convention and the New Nature Action Agenda, participants will hone in on the crucial, but not always obvious, role of business in conservation and biodiversity protection. Explore nature-based solutions to climate, wildlife trading and its impact on conservation and livelihood, the role of business in creating healthy ecosystems, and more during this timely discussion. 

Climate’s Impact on Health: Why Every Business Should Care

Climate change affects each and every human around the globe, with profound and potentially lasting implications that could undermine decades of progress in public health. Companies operating at the intersection of health and climate have a critical role to play and a massive opportunity to contribute to solutions. As climate change intensifies, so do its impacts on human health—and on business. These impacts affect companies in all sectors. Join representatives from healthcare; financial services; information and communications technology; and food, beverage, and agriculture to learn how to build climate resilience.

Content Moderation in the Era of Virality

How can social media platforms respect users’ freedom of expression while also protecting them from harm? With more than 3 billion people active on social media, it’s a challenge of unprecedented scale in human history. Over 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute; Facebook removes around 8 million pieces of content per quarter for violating standards for hate speech, bullying, and terrorist propaganda; Twitter takes action against around 250,000 unique accounts each quarter for violating hateful conduct rules. Are social media platforms fighting a losing battle against the sheer volume of content? Companies are ramping up content moderation efforts, but they face major questions about how to create content standards, how to balance global rules with local context, and what the role of each stakeholder should be. Investigate some of the ways companies can solve these challenges in a way that balances security, privacy, and freedom of expression.

Countdown to 2030: Innovating for the SDGs

The 17 goals and 169 targets that comprise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an ambitious roadmap for the global community to achieve real progress for humanity. A business-as-usual approach is not enough to reach these ambitious targets, and in response, a growing number of innovative and interconnected approaches are emerging. Examine the role that innovation can play for companies, donors, and civil society in their pursuit of the SDGs.

Facing the Future: The Implications of Facial Recognition

New technologies are transforming private and public spaces as facial recognition becomes more accessible and consumer-facing. From crime prevention to checkout-free stores, there are many opportunities to benefit from human-sensing tools. However, risks of discrimination and privacy violations also exist. In fact, some cities have already gone so far as to create “facial recognition free zones.” Discover how business, government, and civil society are thinking about how to respect human rights throughout the development and deployment of this new technology.  

Future-Proofing Human Rights Due Diligence

The world around us is changing at an increasingly rapid pace, with new technologies, shifting social norms, and turbulent politics transforming the circumstances in which business is expected to meet its responsibility to respect human rights. In this context, one big question looms large: Is the business and human rights field equipped to identify, and effectively mitigate, the potentially adverse impacts of the future? This interactive workshop will explore new approaches to human rights due diligence designed to help companies identify and address the uncertain human rights impacts of a rapidly changing world.

How MVPs are Leveling the Playing Field

As industries begin to reveal the true scope and scale of the gender pay gap, the male-dominated sports industry has not escaped criticism for its unequal pay practices: Men and women are compensated at vastly different levels for doing the exact same work, be it scoring goals, shooting hoops, or hitting home runs. This off-field battle for pay equity and greater representation of women as professional coaches and commentators continues to pick up momentum, with All-Star players speaking up on behalf of their sports and teammates, and sporting companies putting more women in the broadcaster’s box and on billboards. This panel of accomplished female athletes will discuss how to keep pushing for progress and work with industry leaders to achieve gender equity.

Investor Relations in the New Era of ESG Scrutiny

After years of hard work by investors and NGOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s annual letter to CEOs shows how sustainability has vaulted to the top of the agenda in investor relations. Investors are increasingly pushing companies to take new actions, improve their reporting, and come up the learning curve—quickly. What should companies do to respond to the increase in investor scrutiny, and how can they work with their investor relations teams to turn ESG demand into sustainable business impact? Learn from speakers as they share their experiences at the intersection of corporate sustainability, investor relations, and shareholder demand.

Leading Radical Change through Collaboration

Business leaders who are steering BSR’s largest collaborations will share what it takes to tackle a company’s most critical sustainability challenges. What mindsets, talents, and business model transformations are needed to collaborate with peers and stakeholders, and what leadership qualities enable companies to achieve radical change?

The New Climate for Activism: Employees Take the Lead

Employee engagement is changing as employees are increasingly rallying around issues that are personal to them. Employees are raising their voices when they find themselves building products that might jeopardize human rights, want more company action on climate change, see discrimination in the workplace, and more. When employees perceive their company’s actions or products are inconsistent with their values, we’ve seen them write letters to CEOs, organize protests, submit shareholder resolutions, and even walk off the job entirely.  Learn first-hand how companies are handling these issues today and working to develop policies and products that reflect the deep respect for sustainability that they promote in their cultures and systems.

The New Climate for Business Responsibility: Modernizing the Social Contract

Fair and effective social contracts enable businesses, workers, and society to thrive together. The social contract that has shaped our economy over the past 75 years needs to be adjusted so that it meets the demands of a rapidly changing world of work and global business environment. In the context of such profound changes, there are significant business incentives to modernize social contracts for the work models of the 21st century to enable all people to successfully adapt to this shifting nature of work, to allow businesses to develop the talent needed to innovate and compete, and to help build social consensus about the relative roles and responsibilities of government, business, and citizens. Insights from this session will be relevant to debates over social safety nets, healthcare, and education.

The New Climate for Ever-Evolving Technology

New and disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things, are being deployed across all industries—everything from financial services to retail, mining to automotive, and logistics to healthcare. The adoption of these technologies brings significant implications for company sustainability strategies: New material issues will arise, salient human rights impacts will change, and different stakeholders will need to join the table. What can companies from outside the technology industry learn from those that have faced these issues over the past decade? 

The New Climate for Media: Primetime for Global Warming

Last fall, a UN panel released a report saying we have 12 years left to slash greenhouse gas emissions or face a future of increasing climate disruption and disasters. Fewer than half of the 50 biggest newspapers in the United States reported on the story. However, recent coverage of the Green New Deal, the global school strike movement, and Extinction Rebellion in the UK, suggests there is growing interest in what is, ostensibly, the most important story of our time. Climate journalists will join us to talk about why climate stories are finally gaining traction, and their vision for the future of environmental journalism.

Smashing the Patriarchy: The Limits and Risks of Corporate Feminism

As women’s rights have risen on the political agenda, companies have sought to align themselves with feminism as a social movement. This has led to successful advertising campaigns, revamped brand images, and product marketing that connects with women. Yet the backlash against ‘corporate feminism’ is growing, with many pointing out that feminism is a political movement for the liberation of women, requiring political changes that will threaten and disrupt existing business models. Are companies aware of the demands of feminism? What role can companies play in supporting women’s rights, without exposing themselves to charges of hypocrisy or deliberate diluting of radical demands?

Standardizing and Scaling Up: Climate Resilience Across Value Chains

Climate change impacts—including more frequent and intense extreme weather events, warming temperatures, and drought—already affect businesses and communities along company value chains. As more companies recognize the urgency to reduce climate risk to maintain productivity, they face a significant challenge in developing resilience strategies: the absence of universal metrics and standards to quantify the benefits. Explore the opportunities and options in setting adaptation targets, defining a framework for results, and maximizing the benefits of resilience for communities along company value chains. 

The New Climate for Business: The Retreat of Universal Values

All around the world, respect for human rights, the operating space for civil society, and respect for journalists is under pressure. It is no longer the case that businesses can be certain that universal values supporting these principles are widely shared, or widely practiced. For companies operating globally, this raises the risk that companies themselves will be constrained, and that global trade will also be constrained.  In this context, companies face new questions. What is their role in promoting open societies when they increasingly run counter to prevailing views in many places? What is the role of business in promoting rule of law? And how can companies support civil society and journalists in places where governments are cracking down?  

The New Climate for Inclusive Growth: The Business Response to Income Inequality

Growing income inequality and declining social mobility have created social, economic, and political instability in many parts of the world. In addition, this presents a challenge to the social license to operate for business. Failure to address a growing sense of economic vulnerability is leading to a backlash against the very idea of capitalism. At the same time, many businesses are exploring ways in which they can modernize their approach to wage dispersion and stagnation, and affordability of goods and services, to address economic insecurity. This session will explore questions on living wage, executive pay and tax structures, and experiments on introducing a universal basic income, which are increasingly garnering attention.

The New Climate for Leadership: Business Voice in a Tribalized World

Today, businesses are taking public stances on emotive issues such as abortion rights, immigration, and gun control—all of which would previously have been considered matters for only governments to consider. In the context of today’s polarized social environment, the traditional approach of political neutrality may no longer be the least risky approach. Consumers and even investors are increasingly expecting companies to walk the talk when it comes to their values. But this requires making difficult, values-based decisions that by definition will alienate some constituents. How can companies navigate this fraught new external landscape in a way that is coherent and consistent, and how can business best use its influence to enable a positive policy environment?

The New Climate for Resilience: Leveraging TCFD Scenario Analysis to Manage Climate Risks

Over 450 companies have now expressed their support for the TCFD Recommendations, which include integrating climate risks and opportunities into business processes and conducting climate scenario analysis. Learn from companies using the TCFD recommendations as a framework for both reporting and climate change management. Those implementing the recommendations on scenario analysis have a further opportunity not only to engage with investors but to enhance strategic resilience. This interactive session will also provide participants with hands-on experience using scenarios to navigate an uncertain climate future.

The Secret to Transparent, Traceable Supply Chains

Explore how to design and implement deliberately transparent, traceable, and sustainable supply chains. During this interactive workshop, participants will look at real-life case studies of companies that are using technology, new collaborative approaches, and unusual partnerships to transform supply chains and create traceability stories for consumers. Participants will then work in groups to apply the learnings to a supply chain of their choice.

Using Technology to Monitor Supply Chains: Good Idea or Big Brother?

Thanks to new technology, supply chain management is going digital. Technological advances are changing how products and services are made and delivered and enabling the creation and sharing of supply chain information in new ways. But are these ‘advances’ always positive? Let’s debate whether using digital tools to gain traceability and visibility—as in the case with forest satellite monitoring—is truly providing sustainability benefits. How can we use these tools in a way that respects peoples’ privacy and livelihoods and benefits those in the supply chain who are most in need?


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I felt this conference was life changing. I am truly inspired and am plotting both career and personal changes to live up to the great lessons I learned. Both the sessions and the networking were vital.