No matter who attends the BSR conference, we always seem to find a balance between the people who legitimately wish to improve sustainability, not just for their company but the planet, and those who set out to further their profits by subtle or blatant greenwashing.
During the Thursday morning breakfast, Zhang Yue, chairman and CEO of China-based Broad Air Conditioning woke the crowd up as he spoke through an interpreter. A few minutes before that, I found myself asking a colleague “Who is this guy?” After 10 minutes, I changed my mind. More people should listen to this guy. True, I haven’t done due diligence on his company but if his company does half the things that he says they do then I’m on board. Yue created China’s first “non-electric chiller” and insists on showing consumers how triple paned windows will reduce their need to use air conditioners. Consider that their business revolves around making air conditioners.
Even the fact that his sustainable company philosophy has dropped his income from the top five richest people in China to the top 500 doesn’t bother him. He’d rather save the planet and make slightly less. Although he became the first CEO to fly regularly on a private corporate jet, he soon realized how detrimental his private jet trips were on the environment, so he changed his corporate jet policy to use it only in special situations and now he normally flies commercial. Maybe the Big 3 (or is it Big 2?) CEOs can get a clue.
The conference not only offers big speeches but interactivity as well. One Thursday morning session tackled the topic of Sustainability of a Budget: Sharing Cost (and Risk) through Government Partnerships and included a diverse panel including Shari Berenbach of Calvert Social Investment Foundation, Sanjay Raman of Howcast Media and Michael de Soyza of Dialog Telekom. After some eye-opening discussion about how PPPs can combine with private companies can increase their impact on social and environmental issues, the attendees broke into groups. We then brainstormed in breakout groups (our group contained people from Visa, ESPN, USAid) about how to create a partnership with various issues and tasks. It’s surprising how many dynamic ideas can be created in 15 minutes.