Sustainability is hard work. And, to borrow from the child-rearing adage, it takes a village. That has never been more clear to me than it was at the 2015 Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Conference, titled “Resilient Business, Resilient World.”
The annual BSR conference brings together sustainability leaders and practitioners to “build the business of a better world” and is one of the world’s most influential sustainability gatherings. Attending a BSR conference has been a longtime dream of mine, and I was able to realize it via an Erb Cool Projects grant.
Environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility have been lifelong interests of mine. Throughout my pre-business-school career, I did my best to frequent conferences and presentations to stay abreast of thought leadership in the area and expand my professional network. The BSR conference, however, opened my eyes to a new level of engagement around sustainability.
In addition to sustainability officers from big corporations leading the charge on corporate social responsibility, the conference included authors, innovation specialists, academics, social enterprise founders and foundation leaders. Recognizing that there is no silver bullet to achieving sustainable business practices, conference speakers and attendees were engaging with sustainability across sectors, industries and functions. This very much echoes my experience at Erb—and more broadly at the University of Michigan—and it was exciting to see alignment in the professional realm of sustainability.
Another important conference takeaway was that it was the first time I had seen practitioners from the environmental and social sides of sustainability coming together to learn from one another and chart a path forward together. I believe that BSR’s conference indicates an important development in sustainability: recognition that progress for one side of the sustainability coin means progress for both; despite differences in terminology, the fight is the same. This echoes discussions at the University of Michigan about how best to connect and structure social and environmental sustainability offerings across campus.
To attend the BSR conference as a representative of the Erb community was particularly powerful given the strong relationship between Erb and BSR. I had the opportunity to meet BSR CEO Aron Cramer before the conference, when he spoke at Ross and SNRE. Erb alums and BSR employees Nate Springer and Marshall Chase were generous with their time, advice and introductions throughout the conference. After I stood up in front of the plenary to ask Tom Linebarger, chairman and CEO of Cummins Inc., how he manages perceived trade-offs between sustainability strategy and company performance, multiple conference attendees familiar with Erb came over and introduced themselves.
The BSR conference helped me further develop the network and toolkit that I will need to make my mark in sustainability. As Erb students, we learn about sustainability from multiple academic perspectives and benefit from a strong and passionate community, which engages with sustainability across a diverse set of perspectives, skill sets and applications. Unique opportunities like attending the BSR conference through Erb Cool Projects round out our academic experience by allowing us to engage with the professional community we hope to join and build the network we need to do so effectively.