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The B Team- questionable name, great initiative!

24 June 2013

Last week I listened to a very familiar conversation about the role of business in society. The usual issues were covered: the short-sightedness of businesses chasing the bottom rather than triple bottom line, the need for a new generation of business leaders with a more holistic understanding of corporate accountability and the need to remove incentives for businesses to act irresponsibly. None of the content was new, but the voices were; a powerful group of global business leaders publicly committing to redefine the purpose of business- to be a driving force for social, environmental and economic benefit.

These are the leaders of The B Team, a not for profit created to deliver a Plan B, a 10 point  Agenda, that puts people and planet alongside profit. Co-founded by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, the architect behind Puma’s visionary environmental profit and loss reporting , it includes a diverse set of  ‘B leaders’ who agree that business, despite all of its positives, has “created most of the negative environmental challenges of this century.” The B Team Statement goes on to say that:

“They have come together as a group of committed business leaders to use their collective voice to help engage other leaders and will act as a catalyst to help deliver ‘Plan B’…And they will work with partners to break down entrenched barriers and ensure there is a clear way forward.”

This is one of the real strengths of the B Team, the emphasis on collaboration and partnership; the Leaders consist of a range of visionaries from business, government and the social sector. Aligned with this conviction for collaboration, the B Team will create a plan to address the first of the three challenges: The Future of Leadership, The Future Bottom Line, and The Future of Incentives, with the guidance of government agencies, the social sector, business leaders and the global public. They are “keen to listen, learn and share” and so will be holding a series of community events over the coming months and are encouraging the public to submit their views on a new charter for better business.

I believe the B Team truly has the potential to create a new chapter in the sustainability agenda, not because their message is new, but because it’s now their message. This is vital, and what we help our clients with at Forster Communications to understand, that it’s not just the message but also the messenger that is important.  It’s no longer civil society ‘bashing business with a stick’ but a strong collective voice of peers, encouraging reactive business to abandon ‘business as usual’ and enter into a new form of capitalism. This is vital for conveying any message effectively, having a trusted voice expressing it. What a gift for the sustainability agenda that those voices include CEO’s, ex-CEO’s, chair’s and founders of hugely successful multinationals.

The B Team is a very young initiative with a mountainous challenge ahead of it, namely convincing their peers that a restructuring of the capitalist model is vital; they claim a tipping point will only need 10% of their ‘society’. Despite this, it’s hard not to be excited by a group of powerful business leaders using their collective clout to take the lead on the sustainable business agenda.