Last week, Aron Cramer, the president and CEO of BSR, welcomed more than a thousand attendees to BSR's annual conference by noting how BSR's conferences always seem to coincide with momentous events throughout the world. Last week was no different.
Attendees could look out at the encampment that is Occupy San Francisco, across the street from the conference venue, in front of the Federal Reserve of San Francisco. Or they could read the U.S. Department of Energy's new figures for 2010 levels of greenhouse gases, which beat worst-case scenario forecasts from four years earlier. Or note the birth of the seven billionth person on Earth.
It was within the context of current events that Cramer described the theme of the conference, that of redefining leadership. Of course, BSR lined up an impressive number of CEOs to provide leadership keynotes. But, as Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn cautioned later in the week, he can "give the team air cover" but CEOs can't get this done by themselves. This is why Cramer called on all BSR attendees to be leaders, to "lead by bringing others along with us."
Al Gore's keynote, immediately following Cramer's call to action, was passionate in its denunciation of short-termism (GreenBiz's Tilde Herrera covered it here). In discussing the need to "make changes in the brains of investing," he also provided an interesting perspective on leadership.
Gore quoted President John F. Kennedy's "moonshot" speech; words referenced by many pundits when discussing the scale of effort necessary to even mitigate the effects of future climate change. But Gore pointed out that the 26-year-old engineers who celebrated the moon landing in Houston were just 18 when Kennedy made his speech. His point was they were not CEOs, but they were leaders -- young leaders.
As with any conference, there are surprises and disappointments. Roused by Gore's impassioned speech, I went to hear what to expect from Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Listening to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence J. Gumbiner, it's hard to pin your hopes on much emerging from the event.