Sessions

Events and times subject to change. Confirmed speakers will be published later this summer. Please check back for updates.

The Paris Agreement set the world in motion for net-zero emissions by 2050 and its 188 climate plans all include this ground-breaking milestone. In 2010, estimated worldwide emissions from human activities totaled nearly 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, a 35 percent increase from 1990. To reverse this growth curve, deep transformations will have to take place—and we have to imagine them today. For the private sector, achieving net-zero emissions will challenge current modes of production, manufacturing, consumption, product design, and financing tools. Participants will leave this session with a better understanding of the risks they will face and how to be prepared.

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Automotive manufacturers and ride-sharing startups continue to promote advanced vehicle technology and alternative use models, ranging from extended-range electric cars to autonomous ride-sharing. Industry manufacturers are increasingly committing to energy efficiency and renewable energy—concurrently, vehicle fuel-economy standards that were adopted with the support of the industry have proven difficult to meet, and manufacturers are now requesting significant rollbacks. This interactive session will provide participants with guidance on redefining their focus on climate change at a time when CAFE standards are under scrutiny.

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There is unlimited research that brands capture consumers’ hearts and minds in an incredibly powerful way. It’s also through brands that business leaders can connect their consumers to environmental and social strategies, driving purchase preferences or behaviors like healthy eating or recycling. But for companies that still struggle to fully integrate corporate sustainability strategy into product development and marketing activities, gathering and refining consumer insights can be a powerful solution. Join this session to get a first-hand look at BSR’s framework for integrating brands and sustainability and learn the do’s and don’ts of this largely unexplored territory.

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Women’s empowerment is widely recognized as a critical pillar of sustainable global development, and evidence is mounting that investing in women can also improve business performance. In this session, we will outline how companies can credibly commit to the gender equality agenda, assess their current performance against the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), and build a robust women’s empowerment strategy. Participants will leave this session knowing how to identify how their company can leverage its full value chain, peers, and strategic partners to make the greatest contribution to women’s progress.

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Violence against women is one of the world’s greatest social, economic, and public health problems, pervading the home, workplace, and community. Working to stop it is not only the right thing to do from a human and labor rights perspective—it is also the smart thing to do for workplace efficiency and profitability. This session will take an in-depth look at how businesses have responded to this complex challenge through preventive and remedial measures. Participants will also gain a greater understanding of what multistakeholder collaboration can do to move the needle on ending gender-based violence.

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Boards should be regularly engaged in a company’s sustainability strategy and performance, but in practice, this can be challenging. This session will look into key dilemmas and questions, such as how to decide which sustainability issues are material enough to justify boardroom attention, how to integrate sustainability issues into the work of board committees, and how to ensure board members have the right expertise to evaluate important non-financial topics like climate change, human rights, and diversity. Participants will hear multiple perspectives on how to increase board engagement with your sustainability strategy.

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In the face of an estimated US$2.5 trillion annual funding gap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN and a broad range of public- and private-sector actors are pursuing innovative financing solutions to social and environmental challenges. What are some of the innovative financing strategies that companies are employing to increase social impact and business value? This discussion will showcase examples to give participants the knowledge to deliver impact.

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Rapid developments in artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain, and the internet of things have the potential—and have already started—to have significant impact, both positive and negative, on human rights. The international human rights regime was designed for a very different world, and the speed, complexity, and extensive reach of these disruptive technologies present new challenges for companies wanting to meet their responsibility to respect human rights. Participants in this lively discussion will explore how to integrate human rights into the development and design of new technologies and whether new “human rights by design” approaches should be deployed.

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Human trafficking and modern day slavery have become central issues on the business radar in recent years, not least with recent legislation in the U.K. and United States on the subject. These issues affect more than 100 million people each year and undermine human rights ranging from bodily security to freedom of movement and livelihood. Companies have a key role to play in tackling human trafficking, including a responsibility to ensure trafficking and slave-like conditions don’t exist within their own operations or supply chain. Participants in this important conversation will gain insight into the growing legal requirements around human trafficking; best practice in identifying, managing and remediating risk across operations; and examples of industrywide efforts to tackle root causes.

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Companies across industries have worked hard to upgrade their approaches to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) management. However, environmental and social risk teams and systems often sit in a silo, and are not fully integrated into corporate and overall enterprise risk management. This deep-dive session will explore examples of how companies successfully integrate ESG into companywide risk management frameworks and will offer best practices and challenges. Participants will walk away with the ability to make the case that traditional sustainability risk management should be fully integrated into overall enterprise risk management and no longer be in the “other” category.

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BSR has been unpacking the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since its 2014 Conference: from contributing to shaping the goals, to providing insights after their launch, to taking stock of achievements on the one-year anniversary of their arrival. This year, this impactful discourse will go one step further and take a deeper look into how to avoid “SDG-washing” by demonstrating positive societal benefits. Participants will hear how and why investors are focusing on the goals, learn best practices for monitoring and evaluation, and walk away with insights from companies setting their business targets to align with the SDGs.

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Blockchain technology offers a powerful, exciting digital tool to fix sustainability problems in myriad fields such as supply chain traceability, migrant labor, and financial inclusion. At the same time, successful implementation of blockchain innovations will require companies and stakeholders to discover solutions to overcome some of the oldest barriers to advancing sustainability—collaboration, governance, standards-setting, and funding models, among others. In this interactive session, participants will learn about the potential for blockchain to transform sustainability, conduct mini-workshops to apply what they learn, and explore how technologists and sustainability leaders can collaborate to bring these solutions to life.

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With seismic shifts occurring in American, European, and other global politics in varying ways, companies are trying to navigate how to engage with policy in order to lead on sustainability issues at a time of profound change. From public opposition to government policies, both in the media and in courts, to quieter efforts in influence and collaboration, there seems to be a multitude of options, but no clear roadmap. This timely discourse will provide guidance for participants to help them make decisions about where and how they can engage in the policy arena, both as individual companies and in collaboration with partners, to raise the voice of business on the crucial sustainability challenges of our time.

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Agriculture accounts for more than 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the sectors that will be most profoundly altered by climate change. While companies have developed programs to mitigate emissions from their agriculture supply chains, corporate leaders are looking beyond mitigation and toward resilience. From supporting climate-smart agriculture practices at the farm level to engaging consumers to reduce food waste, there’s a wave of innovative and game-changing opportunities that not only minimize the impact of food production but turn agriculture into a climate solution. The session will explore three increasingly prominent opportunities: mitigating the climate impacts of a protein-rich diet, adopting climate-smart agriculture practices, and addressing food waste reductions. Learn how companies can borrow from these approaches to create a holistic approach towards a carbon positive food system.

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Good health is a source of competitive advantage and a catalyst for innovation. Companies are increasingly viewing employee and community health and well-being as a strategic priority, and they are developing cross-sector partnerships to achieve health goals. In this dynamic discussion, participants will learn from leading companies how to make the business case for investing in employee and community health and what actions to take to benefit populations. Participants will also leave knowing the metrics that are most relevant and important to their programs.

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From decreased cocoa production in West Africa, to reduced cotton production from drought in South Asia, to concerns over coffee yields from fluctuating weather patterns globally, key agricultural commodities are under stress due to climate change. Many companies understand how commodity supply availability impacts their ability to create products. However, many fail to realize how climate resilience can help mitigate risks, help maintain business success, and positively impact local communities. This discussion will take an in-depth look at how leading brands are implementing climate resilience strategies into their key-commodity supply chains.

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Companies have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable workers in their supply chains: migrants. Migrant workers are the most susceptible to poor working conditions and to exploitative and forced labor, among other infringements on human rights. The challenge of protecting their rights is compounded by the differing nature of migration across regions, from the internal migrants of Asia to the refugees and displaced persons of the Middle East. Companies must grapple with the issue at all levels of employment. This informative session will help participants tackle challenges to responsible practices around recruitment, good housing conditions, protection from violence and local backlash, education, and other timely matters.

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The sustainable business landscape is changing. This transformation results from both underlying changes in the economy, such as demographic change, automation, and new energy systems, and near-term political volatility, such as Brexit and the new U.S. administration. This timely debate will address key questions about the role of sustainable business in the current economic and political context, and discuss ways in which today’s unique landscape presents a rare opportunity to redefine the future of sustainable business. Participants will gain insight into key issues arising from this transformation, such as how business engages with policy-makers, employees, and the general public about its role creating a just and sustainable future.

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The recent ascendancy of competitive nationalism and populist politics in the United States and Europe has greatly increased uncertainty for business—developed markets and large emerging markets can no longer be considered benign and predictable from a political risk perspective, and business can no longer assume a steady journey toward ever-greater economic liberalization and regulatory convergence. At the same time, public trust in business has collapsed. Participants in this timely, in-depth discussion will learn how to respond to external developments and reputational concerns on a much more coordinated, real-time basis, and how a focus on stakeholder trust can lead to long-term company sustainability.

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The GRI Guidelines are now Standards. The SASB Provisional Standards are on their way to being Codified. The EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive is being implemented. The Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures has provided recommendations for how climate-related financial information should be included in mainstream financial filings. These developments raise the stakes when it comes to the quality and robustness of sustainability disclosures, and the importance of rigorous reporting processes. Is the sustainability profession up to the job? Participants in this conversation will learn what they can do to ensure that sustainability disclosures achieve the same level of accuracy, reliability, and quality as financial disclosures.

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Contingent workers are defined as freelancers, independent contractors, consultants, or other outsourced and non-permanent workers who are hired on a per-project basis. These workers make up more than 90 percent of new job creation in European countries, and by 2020, it is estimated that 50 percent of the U.S. workforce will be in contingent jobs. This candid discussion will explore how companies ensure that all workers have a basic guarantee of income and other social safety nets like unemployment benefits and insurance coverage in this new world of work.

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Will the global sustainability agenda survive in a “post-fact” world, where popular sentiment belies factual evidence of growing inequality and climate change? At a time when public trust in business, government, and the media lies at an all-time low, companies must find new ways to communicate about their most critical sustainability challenges. Participants in this candid dialogue will discover solutions to that challenge and will uncover the risks and opportunities for companies who are prepared to make the move toward transparency.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to fundamentally change the way we work and live as algorithms begin to make more fundamental decisions for us. Like many new technologies, AI is the source of tremendous opportunities to support the public good, but also brings risks and new challenges. How do we build ethical, moral, and human values into the future of AI? What governance mechanisms must be in place to minimize AI’s potential harm and maximize its benefits? This intriguing discussion will explore how companies can incorporate ethics, inclusion, and transparency to protect against perpetuating biases or circumventing ethics in financial transactions, law enforcement, monopolizing behavior, and more.

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For the past half-century, the approach to transportation infrastructure—rail, road, air, and sea—has remained essentially the same. However, the convergence of technological innovation and an increase in needed infrastructure investment has created a unique opportunity to think differently. Our traditional road, rail, and airline systems could be replaced with something straight out of a science fiction movie. This cutting-edge conversation will explore how alternative high speed rail, driverless cars, the commercialization of space travel, and other innovations could fundamentally change transportation as we know it, and the resulting sustainability impacts and benefits that could come with the systemic shift.

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The sustainability community has made tremendous progress over the past 25 years. But in many ways, it has also done itself a disservice. Business leaders lament the competing standards and frameworks, the goals of collecting data rather than creating impact, and the focus on perfection rather than performance improvement. As we look to build business leadership and drive greater change over the next 25 years and beyond, this interactive and introspective session will help participants examine the mistakes made and learn how the sustainability community can work together to support even more substantial progress moving forward.

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There is tremendous focus today on sustainable and impact investing and on the firms developing the analytics and making the investment decisions. But the real drivers behind the move toward more sustainable investing are the “asset owners”—those who actually own the money. Pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, and endowments are the owners of the vast majority of the world’s money. Therefore, these groups have become the hidden sustainability leaders. Participants in this session will get a deeper look into the quiet role these asset owners play, and how they can drive the sustainability agenda.

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