What We're Into: BSR Conference & The New Grand Strategy

"Ask people what kind of world they want for their kids, and they will speak in the language of sustainability."

The BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) annual conference back in early November was a great opportunity to interact with business and public-sector leaders from around the globe. In conference sessions and in conversations with my fellow attendees, a wealth of information was shared about how businesses around the world are pursuing sustainable, responsible practices.

Three months later, those discussions at BSR continue to give me energy, because they emphasized that responsible business is common sense – it's good for the bottom line as well as people and planet. Sustainability is ultimately something that people want and believe in, even if they're turned off by words like "sustainability."

One of my favorite conversations at the BSR conference was a session with Mark "Puck" Mykleby and Joel Makower, authors of the book The New Grand Strategy. (That session is now available to watch online, here at BSR's website.)

The authors explain that, while sustainability is often set aside or even sacrificed in favor of prosperity and security, it should actually join prosperity and security as major goals for our country. In fact, sustainability comes first: Rather than being a "nice-to-have" that gets tacked on when the economy is good, sustainability is, as Makower put it, a "strategic imperative." Sustainability is the foundation that leads to prosperity and security, not the frosting on top.

Listening to the presentation, I was pleasantly surprised when the authors mentioned the Greensburg Wind Project, which I helped bring to fruition while working at John Deere in 2009. My team in the company's wind energy division (now Exelon) brought wind energy to Greensburg, Kansas, which had been devastated by a tornado and had chosen to rebuild as a model "green town." Working with a variety of supporters, stakeholders, and partners, including neighboring municipalities, businesses, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we established the Greensburg Wind Project, which generates enough energy annually to power 4,000 homes.

I continue to share the story of Greensburg with people as an example of cross-sector, bipartisan collaboration. Mykleby and Makower are an example of unexpected collaboration, too, as they joked that they approach the topic of sustainability from completely different directions: Mykleby as a rural Minnesota native who attended the Naval Academy and is a former Marine, and Makower as a child of the San Francisco Bay Area who went to Berkeley and registered with the military draft as a conscientious objector.

"And yet, we came to the exact same place, which is that sustainability makes sense as this organizing logic for a new American economy," Makower says.

The session, along with Makower and Mykleby's book, is a good reminder that sustainability is a common-sense solution and goal for our future – and that business can play a decisive leadership role in championing sustainable practices. You can watch the video of the full session at BSR's website!