BCG's Weekly Briefs

In BCG’s Weekly Brief, our most senior executives, including Global Chair Rich Lesser and CEO Christoph Schweizer, share their latest perspectives and ideas, as well as some of the firm’s most compelling thought leadership, in an email to colleagues, clients, and friends around the world. These messages cover a wide range of topics that are top of mind for business leaders today, issues that have become more layered and challenging than ever: from global trade and consumer choice to corporate purpose, climate change, and responsible AI. Here is a selection:

The Upstream Scope 3 Imperative and Opportunity

JUNE 13, 2022

To BCG’s network around the world,

If we are to have any shot at meeting our climate goals, it’s essential that we tackle supply chain emissions—or upstream Scope 3, in climate parlance—with greater urgency. Scope 3 represents 75% to 95% of the emissions for end products in major value chains, such as food, auto, construction, and electronics.

During my travels over the past month, I had two experiences—one discouraging, one encouraging—that reveal a lot about our current progress on Scope 3 upstream. I’ll start by sharing those stories, and then highlight how we can set the stage for action despite the near-term macroeconomic pressures.

“Not One Penny More.”

In India, I met the CEO of a leading company, who was skeptical that major multinationals were serious about tackling supply chain emissions. He told me that in discussion with his procurement contact at a global consumer company—led by a CEO whom I personally know is committed to addressing climate challenges—he raised the opportunity to decarbonize a key product component relatively cheaply. The procurement person responded bluntly and directly: “Not one penny more,” he said.

When he pushed the procurement person, reminding him about his CEO’s sustainability commitments, he said he didn’t care. His KPIs depend only on the cost of this product. Anything that wouldn’t reduce product cost was of no interest. Unfortunately, this is likely typical of conversations between upstream producers and their downstream customers around the world right now.

Plans for Action

On the flip side, at Davos, we had the second major gathering of the First Movers Coalition (FMC), an initiative started by the US State Department and the World Economic Forum. The FMC is now made up of 55 leading companies. Eight countries, including lndia, Japan, the UK, and Italy, are now teaming up with the US and the WEF to accelerate progress.

The focus of the meeting was on committing to purchase—at a premium—products with emerging decarbonization technologies. BCG, the knowledge partner of the FMC, joined with Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Swiss Re, and others as founding partners in the newly added carbon removal category. Overall, it was an action-oriented, forward-looking, energizing conversation—my favorite of the week.

Bridging the Scope 3 Gap

These two stories represent the challenge we’re facing. On the one hand, CEOs of leading companies increasingly understand that they must create demand signals for decarbonizing hard-to-abate areas such as steel, aluminum, cement, aviation, agriculture, and shipping if they want to drive investment, innovation, and scaling. On the other hand, action has been way too slow and often hampered by short-term interests.

We have to find a way to bridge this gap quickly, despite the enormous short-term pressures. And while doing so will be hard, it won’t be as hard as many business leaders believe.

First, as our supply chain report with the WEF highlighted last year, creating net-zero products from the eight biggest-emitting value chains leads to cost increases of 1% to 4% for end users—meaningful but not insurmountable. Second, these efforts will unfold over years, so taking the right actions now will generally not have an impact on short-term economic conditions. But they will give suppliers time to prepare and invest—and gain confidence that their customers will value these investments. And they will enable suppliers and their customers to prepare for the transition to a lower-carbon world.

There’s a lot we can do right now:

  • We can invest in better supply chain measurement, tracking, and decision support tools. BCG has created an AI-based tool to help our clients do this (CO2 AI), and others are developing tools, as well.
  • We can transform our procurement teams, including making sure sustainability is central to their agenda—a topic Christoph will come back to more broadly next week.
  • We can build stronger relationships with suppliers, starting a discussion about transparent emissions reporting and goal setting and planning more strategically for the years to come.
  • We can educate our employees and our customers about why Scope 3 matters and think about collaborating on sector-level efforts (consistent carbon labeling is one example) so that the companies that do make progress are valued for it.
  • We can advocate for smart regulation, reporting, and incentives that encourage investment, drive transparency, and set a level playing field without adding onerous burdens.
  • We can make bold commitments for advancing technology, such as joining the FMC.
  • And last but not least, we can develop a real business case for decarbonization. In many cases, we will find that spending “one penny more” will pay off in the medium term. This year’s report from BCG and the WEF, The CEO Guide to Climate Advantage, lays out the value drivers.

The short-term pressures are indeed immense, but the fact is that this doesn’t have to be an either-or situation—managing the complexities of a challenging economy or moving toward bolder climate commitments across all scopes. To succeed at decarbonizing at the pace we need, we have to align our own organizations around this goal while sending clear signals of intent into supply chains—and now.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

On the Brink of a Global Food Crisis

APRIL 18, 2022

To BCG’s network around the world,

The horrific war in Ukraine is causing tremendous pain to those who remain there and to those who are fleeing—a situation that leaders should continue to support however they can. But recent reports, along with our own analysis, have shown that the war could also trigger a major crisis in our global food system.

As recently as February, the global food market seemed resilient, with producers responding appropriately to price signals in the marketplace. But the war has shaken up that semblance of strength, creating massive humanitarian, economic, and societal risk, in the short term and beyond.

The UN Task Team for the Global Crisis Response Group says that as many as 1.7 billion people in 107 economies will be severely exposed to the impact of the war due to food insecurity, rising energy prices, and/or mounting debt burden.

The rising food insecurity from this war is the result of three converging crises:

  • Import Crisis. Global commodity production is highly concentrated, with Russia and Ukraine accounting for about 12% of the total calories traded in the world. But blocked ports in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia are preventing food exports to the countries that largely rely on those two markets. Both countries are also responsible for a significant amount of the world’s fertilizer, and the current situation could suppress harvests both for self-consumption and for other exports in many parts of the world.
  • Price Crisis. The collective global food shortage is causing a price hike that’s making it impossible for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to be able to afford what’s available. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 159.3 points in March, up 12.6% from February. Fertilizer prices are also increasing drastically, nearly tripling in the past year. And European fertilizer plants have begun cutting production due to high energy costs, leading to concerns over a reduction in fertilizer use in production powerhouses like the US and Brazil. This could have a huge impact on the global wheat, soybean, and corn supply chains—and on consumer prices.
  • Debt Crisis. About 60% of low-income countries are currently in or at high risk of debt distress, compared with 30% in 2015. This is largely a result of ongoing crises (COVID-19, climate, and conflict) and unprecedented government spending aimed at addressing the economic and medical consequences of the pandemic.

Leaders in the public and private sectors can act and build support now in order to prepare for the range of potential impacts and lessen their severity.

First, we can support Ukrainian farmers by facilitating imports of key farm inputs to ensure planting and harvesting, where possible. We can also help provide alternative logistics, such as, for example, creative use of land transport to unblock the 15 million tons of corn currently stuck inside the country.

Second, we need to facilitate humanitarian assistance for the countries most in need, and we have to do so right away. This means enabling global flows of food (especially for humanitarian assistance) and streamlining any response for near-term deficits, including having supplies at the ready when they’re needed and providing cash transfers as relevant.

And finally, we need to immediately begin coordinating medium-term investments to allow farmers to plant during the current season. Among other things, this will require ensuring the distribution of fertilizer and bolstering technical assistance to enable farmers to produce more with existing fertilizer.

The food insecurity caused by these crises drives multiple points of instability in already fragile environments around the world. We’ve seen this happen before, although not to the degree we may witness this time. A similar web of instability in 2007 to 2008 sparked riots across 25 countries.

Averting a meltdown of the global food system will take a coordinated, multisector response that focuses on the knock-on effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and develops tailored, country-specific action plans, prioritizing the many places around the world that will experience the worst impacts of these converging crises.

We have a team at BCG working closely with global food system leaders and will have a broader report on this topic soon. In the meantime, as we look around the corner to prepare for second-order impacts, food security should be near the top of the list, adding to the misery and destruction this war has already caused for so many millions.

Please see below for our latest Executive Perspective update on the war in Ukraine.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

AI and the Retail Personalization Revolution

FEBRUARY 7, 2022

To BCG’s network around the world,

The power of personalization has been known for years. In fact, one of my earliest projects at BCG involved illustrating the enormous potential for Segment-of-One Marketing to customize the relationships with individual consumers.

But as I look at how sophisticated personalization has become, and the role that artificial intelligence can play, the progress is staggering.

Take retail. We know that the global retail landscape is changing at breakneck speed, driven by an explosion in data, the shift to online accelerated by the pandemic, more and more digitally savvy consumers, inflationary pressures, and net-zero awareness, with 60% of consumers today willing to change buying habits or pay more for sustainable products. In addition to managing all that disruption, retailers also need to reimagine how they deliver value in an inflationary environment in which different customer segments have a dramatically different willingness to pay.

To win customers and stay competitive, retail businesses need to move away from the blunt instrument of mass promotions and shift spending to personalized offers. Today, personalized spending is only 5% of total value investments across retail, but we expect that to grow to 25%—even 50% in some categories. In fact, BCG’s research shows that a move to personalization at scale, powered by AI, would lead to $70 billion in revenue growth annually for early movers.

Getting It Right

Personalization is about delivering the right experience to the right person the right way—all at the right time. Key to success is the use of innovative technology platforms that enable retailers to automate parts of the process that had been fully manual in the past. This includes customer data platforms, content management systems, marketing automation software, channel delivery solutions, and a well-architected data and analytics environment.

We’ve learned through our work that 70% of the codebase needed for personalization is reusable across organizations and industries, cutting time to market dramatically. BCG’s AI platform, for example, is a configurable codebase that launches rapid personalization pilots in weeks, not months. Formation, a SaaS company we cofounded years ago with Starbucks, leverages AI and machine learning to fully automate personalized offers and gamified customer experiences for retailers and brands.

There have also been advances in what we call AI creative-content generation, which involves algorithms linked to massive databases of words and phrases. The technology attempts to match the mix of words that will best resonate with the consumer at every interaction. Personalizing both the content and the message, drawing on millions of tagged words, has been shown to deliver an increase in conversion rates of more than 40%

Learning from Leaders

Starbucks, a well-known leader in personalization, has eliminated mass promotions completely and instead offers tailored gamified specials to rewards members—a shift that has resulted in 8% year-on-year growth in member spending and driven similar store sales growth for years.

But there are many other impressive examples. A large retail chain in North America launched a capability that allowed vendors to fund personalized offers, which helped the company gain incremental funding from suppliers during the pandemic. It generated $100 million in net incremental value, and the number of customers interacting with personalized offers grew by 50%. Other food and big box retailers are on similar journeys.

Even fashion and retail companies, which have historically relied on sales events to clear inventory, are gaining big wins in personalization. By using off-the-shelf AI technology to enable targeted rewards, a $1 billion brand generated $25 million in incremental annual EBITDA. Personalization also enables human sales agents to have far greater impact with their customers.

* * *

The shift to personalization isn’t new, but the current environment of disruption is forcing retailers to rethink how to win consumers. The use of AI in the retail industry will drive both productivity and growth opportunities never seen before—and empower companies to delight their customers in uncertain times.

Please see below for more on this topic.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

The Five Challenges on Our Minds as We Head to 2022

DECEMBER 21, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

During my first months as CEO, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with nearly 100 CEOs and dozens of other senior leaders from around the world and across industries. I’m struck by the recurring themes in our conversations. So many are wrestling with a remarkable level of complexity—and all with the continued and now growing uncertainty regarding COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, as cases sadly spike again in many countries. Here are the five topics that business leaders seem to be most focused on, all of which will carry into 2022 and beyond.

  • Shaping the Future of Work. The COVID-19 pandemic forced an acceleration of trends already in motion with the advent of digital technologies—remote work, hybrid teaming, flexible working models, upskilling talent, and more. As we (hopefully) look beyond the pandemic, CEOs are wrestling with the path forward: these are high-stakes decisions with many interdependencies that cut at the core of how we innovate, learn, affiliate, and attract talent. One CEO told me that in 20 years leading three different companies, his remote work policy was the single hardest decision he’s ever had to make.
  • Making Climate and Sustainability Commitments Real. For many CEOs, 2020 and 2021 were years for making substantial climate commitments. Now, after setting ambitious targets, they face the hard work of identifying the right path to achieve them. The pressure is on from all stakeholders—employees, customers, investors, and communities—to make fast progress. This often means extending efforts to also include suppliers and customers, making substantial long-term capital commitments, and betting on new technologies. These choices are compounded by policy uncertainty, competitive dynamics, and complexity regarding how progress is measured, tracked, and compared.
  • Accelerating Digital and AI. Investing in and deploying AI quickly and effectively—often as a part of broader digital transformations—is essential to achieving long-term competitive advantage. Large, established companies are facing pressure from Big Tech, fintech players, and agile market entrants, and they need to get this right. Most leaders now recognize that success depends at least as much on changes in skills, processes, organization, and agility as it does on algorithms and tech platforms.
  • Responding to Deteriorating Geopolitics. Complexity and volatility on the world’s political stage continues. Business leaders are grappling with how to respond to the many challenges, including navigating the increasingly tense relationship between China and the US and communicating in a world of increased polarization.
  • Strengthening Resilience. To protect and improve long-term performance—and manage the four challenges above—business leaders know their organizations need to be deeply resilient and ready to embrace change and uncertainty. This means embedding resilience (the ability to react and succeed in any market context) into the supply chain and designing business models that can shift and adapt. It also requires increasing all kinds of diversity within the ranks to ensure access to top talent, multiple points of view, and a greater innovative spirit.

Despite the continued uncertainty in the world around us, Rich and I both remain generally optimistic for the business outlook in 2022. Rich will share our case for optimism in the first Weekly Brief of the new year. In the meantime, I sincerely hope you can take a break and recharge. I wish you all a wonderful, safe, and restful holiday season.

Christoph Schweizer
Chief Executive Officer

An Inside View from COP26—Week One

NOVEMBER 8, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

I’ve been on the ground in Glasgow for the past week at COP26, a pivotal gathering of world leaders, companies, investors, and civil society meant to get the world on a better, faster, and more inclusive pathway toward net zero. Our BCG team has been quite active, supporting the UNFCCC High-Level Climate Champions, the UK COP Presidency, and the launch of the First Movers Coalition (FMC), as well as serving as a founding partner of Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and participating in many panels and senior leader dialogues.

There’s so much to report from the first week of the conference, and I will get to that. But first, I want to share the moment that inspired me the most. Vinisha Umashankar, a 15-year-old from India and an Earthshot Prize finalist, was introduced by Prince William at the World Leaders Summit and gave a beautiful and inspiring five-minute speech. I highly recommend that you watch it, ideally with your child or a young adult, and then decide what you will do to match her passion and innovative spirit to change your organization and influence the world around you. As Vinisha so eloquently put it: “You are deciding whether my generation will get to live in a habitable world; you are deciding whether we are worth fighting for....”

Here’s my take on the week—what has given me the most hope, along with some of the most important questions and challenges.

Seven Points of Light

1. The Private Sector Steps Up. Every longtime COP attendee I have spoken to shared that they’ve never seen the private sector participate with the level of energy and commitment it has shown this year. For many, this engagement is the biggest highlight of COP26 so far.

In the runup to the conference, we saw more than 5,000 businesses sign up to join the Race to Zero campaign, a commitment to the 1.5° pathway. John Kerry and the US State Department, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, announced that 34 companies have joined the First Movers Coalition, aimed at accelerating demand for clean advanced technologies—and I expect many more firms will follow. And Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, a Bill Gates initiative now with ten founding partners, is focused on rapidly scaling these critical climate technologies. “If we’re going to scale the innovations that get us to zero,” Bill said, “we need to reduce the cost difference between things that emit and things that don’t…. The cost of the transition must be low enough that the whole world can afford it.”

2. India’s Climate Plan. India’s commitment to a 2070 net-zero GHG emission goal may be more than it appears on the surface, particularly when combined with its commitment to transition to 50% renewable power and reduce carbon intensity by 45% by 2030. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an important force in week one on this and on other important issues in technology and a global electricity grid.

3. A Just Transition Fund for South Africa. An $8.5 billion fund has been put together by the Just Energy Transition Partnership, an initiative from the UK, the US, France, and Germany, to finance an inclusive energy transition in South Africa, supporting a plan that BCG was honored to help create. I hope this is the start of a fast-moving trend in which high-income countries step up to accelerate the decarbonization and just transition of lower- and middle-income countries.

4. A Big Financial Sector Commitment. Nearly 500 financial institutions, representing 40% of financial assets globally, have committed to a pathway using science-based targets to reach net zero by 2050 and pathway-aligned reductions by 2030—a huge step forward compared with the last COP. The commitment does not mean that the headline $130 trillion is ready for deployment now, but it does show that many banks, asset owners, and asset managers are on board for net zero and ready to take responsibility for measuring and reporting progress.

5. A Global Methane Pledge. More than 100 countries, including the US, Japan, and Canada, and the EU, have agreed to slash methane emissions—responsible for one-third of current global warming—by 30% by 2030, relative to 2020 levels. Rapidly reducing methane, with its major greenhouse gas effects, is one of the most effective short-term measures we can take.

6. Glasgow Breakthroughs Agenda. More than 40 countries, including the UK, the US, India, and China, have signed on to this critical framework aimed at developing and deploying clean technologies, initially focusing on making electric vehicles more affordable, expanding clean energy, scaling low-carbon hydrogen, and pushing steel production toward near zero by 2030. The initiative is supported by the private sector and is synergistic with key programs, such as the FMC and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst.

7. Innovation Where We Need It Most. Some of the most energizing conversations I had last week were private discussions about the advanced technologies that are achieving or will soon achieve major technical milestones, including digital and AI optimization of a renewable grid infrastructure, nuclear technologies, and direct air capture. They’re unlikely to change the trajectory much this decade but could have a huge impact in the 2030s and 2040s. Innovations that deliver lower-cost solutions remain our biggest upside to meet the 2050 goals, as we have already seen in solar, wind, and batteries.

Five Big Uncertainties

While there’s encouraging news across many fronts, five uncertainties loom particularly large for me:

1. Protecting Nature. It was encouraging to see the reforestation pledge, with more than 100 world leaders signing on to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. But the challenges involved in turning these commitments into tangible results remain large. It will take just as much effort in planning, resourcing, executing, and measuring our efforts to protect and restore nature as it will to transform industry.

2. A Price on Carbon. Getting a price on carbon has been the single biggest ask from CEOs in so many conversations between business leaders and public officials. This topic is of central importance in the US right now and may still stand a chance to be included in the Build Back Better legislation. The voice of business must stay loud on this topic around the world.

3. From Commitment to Action. Many of the commitments this past week from the public and private sectors were encouraging, but the proof is in the pudding (appropriate for a UK COP). Progress will hinge both on policies and on operational elements, such as reducing the permitting delays for upgrading the grid that occur in so many countries and communities. Another major factor will be the role that multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and IMF, will play in de-risking investments to unlock the private sector’s large financial commitments. Finally, both private and public actors will need to translate their commitments into credible plans with tangible nearer-term targets and transparent reporting if they are to (re-) earn the trust of society.

4. Support for Developing Countries to Adapt. This remains a central part of the global climate journey, and the commitments to date are still not where they need to be. Will high-income countries step up to this need and responsibility to help the parts of the world that did not create this climate crisis but will feel the most impact and are least equipped to deal with its potentially catastrophic effects?

5. COP26 Week Two. Where will we be at the end of this week? The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established an indispensable process of climate negotiations, but negotiators have a challenging week ahead. Will they agree on rules for carbon trading and find ways to accelerate the process by which countries raise ambitions?

My Favorite CEO Quote. At the FMC launch, Anna Borg, CEO of Swedish power company Vattenfall, put into clear focus how high the stakes are for business leaders everywhere: “This is about competitiveness and building the business models of tomorrow. The largest risk is to not transform. The customer demand will change so much faster than industrial processes. To be early will be challenging, but to be late will be devastating.

I found myself more optimistic at the end of week one than I expected to be, given the skeptical buildup. But there’s still so much work to do in week two and far, far beyond.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

What Makes Work Productive?

OCTOBER 11, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

Of the many colleagues who have shaped my thinking over the years, Yves Morieux—with his unique insights about “smart simplicity” and the connection between context and behavior—has been one of the most influential.

In addition to his two TED talks, which together have garnered more than 6 million views, his writing has consistently shaken up established thinking about keeping employees engaged and running organizations more effectively. I think you’ll find his latest article, The Social Economics of Work and Productivity, particularly interesting at a time when there’s so much talk about how to design the future of work. It’s cowritten by BCG’s Diana Dosik, whose TED talk about organizational behavior and the employee journey is another must-watch video.

When COVID-19 lockdowns forced so many of us to work from home, the challenges, of course, were enormous—especially among the most vulnerable members of society. But as employees and their managers scrambled to figure out how to use technological tools in order to keep businesses up and running, “relational productivity”—the term Yves has coined to refer to the economic benefits of human connectedness—surged.

How could a lack of contact lead to greater connectedness and higher productivity?

The forced period of working from home removed the “container” we were used to: the shared workspace, the meetings with the highest-ranking member of the team at the head of the table, the potentially misleading notion that leaders are in touch with their teams because they are all physically together. Without the container, we were left with the authentic content of our connections—or lack thereof. A discovery by subtraction.

Yves and Diana liken this to replacing traffic lights with a roundabout. While the clarity of red, yellow, and green might seem like the safer option, drivers at roundabouts are forced to slow down and make decisions based on active observations. They tend to be more mindful—and, research shows, proceed more safely—than the passive driver responding to a signal.

As the pandemic took away our traffic lights overnight, we learned that intentional connectedness matters more than physical proximity and leads to greater productivity. We also learned the importance of three “relational complementarities” underlying relational productivity: vertical (manager to employee), horizontal (employee to employee), and radial (employee to organization). When strong, and enhanced by digital technologies, these complementarities can combine to improve leadership, cooperation, and engagement throughout the organization.

The point isn’t that moving everyone to fully remote work is the answer—for sure not. Instead, Yves and Diana suggest that we should be very careful not to ignore the lessons we have learned from this period. We have to invest in the relational dimensions of work, finding ways to design tasks—whatever “container” they’re taking place in (remote, in office, or hybrid)—so that they are engaging for everyone involved.

Please see below for more on this and related topics.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

Transforming for the Future—Sustainability and AI

OCTOBER 5, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

I’m so pleased to be stepping in for Rich to share this Weekly Brief, a few days after becoming CEO of BCG.

One of the privileges of starting my new role is the chance I have to speak with dozens of CEOs around the world. Right now, I’m writing after an invigorating set of discussions in Singapore. What’s striking so far is that the two topics that are top of mind for me—stepping up efforts in climate and sustainability and embedding AI—are also among the top priorities for the CEOs I’ve met. These are two of the primary challenges that organizations face today, and they also present the greatest opportunities for differentiation and the ability to make a difference in the world.

Climate and Sustainability
Rich wrote to you a couple weeks ago about some of BCG’s own net-zero goals and how we’ve been able to increase our ambitions and move up our timelines over the past year. Beyond our internal goals, we’re currently working with hundreds of clients around the world and across all industries on their net-zero and ESG agendas—helping many of them embark on sustainability transformations, make progress on the path to net zero, and seek to find a place of lasting competitive advantage.

I know that many CEOs also want to be involved in broader climate and sustainability efforts, which requires a step change in how we all think about collective action—pooling resources, knowledge, and capabilities to tackle climate change together. I’m particularly excited about one of the ways in which BCG has taken on that task, by becoming one of seven anchor partners of the Breakthrough Energy Catalyst program, part of Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy entity devoted to fighting climate change.

This partnership—which also includes American Airlines, ArcelorMittal, Bank of America, the BlackRock Foundation, General Motors, and Microsoft—will mobilize billions of dollars of private and public capital to fund projects across four technologies critical for decarbonization: green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel, long-duration energy storage, and direct air capture.

Artificial Intelligence
Embedding artificial intelligence is another daunting task that offers incredible opportunities for organizations, and it comes up in nearly every conversation I have with CEOs. AI can help turn traditional companies into “bionic” leaders, which combine technology with the adaptability and unique experience of humans.

I fundamentally believe AI can radically change how people work, shifting their tasks from transactional to creative and making work more meaningful and productive. Our recent research underscores this. The morale of employees at companies where AI has been deployed is materially higher than in organizations where it has not—more on this in an upcoming BCG publication. But getting AI right is a big job, encompassing a rethinking of end-to-end processes, decision making, operating models, and entire value chains.

The intersection of AI and sustainability promises to be powerful in the decades to come. AI will prove to be a game changer in measuring and tracking emissions, selecting and implementing the best decarbonization solutions, and, as a result, mitigating the effects of climate change overall.

We’re at a moment of tremendous change and possibility, with so many opportunities available to create value for all. In this context, I’m particularly excited to take on the CEO role to serve the BCG community of clients, alumni, and staff. To read more about these topics please see below. I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

To read more about these topics please see below. I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

Christoph Schweizer
Chief Executive Officer

Sustainable Resource Scarcity Can Shape Competitive Advantage

JULY 12, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

Did you know:

  • The current supply of raw materials for batteries is less than one-third of what will be required to meet demand in 2030?
  • Many consumer packaged goods companies have set ambitious recycled-plastics packaging goals, but about 45% of the demand will be unmet by 2025?
  • Only 21% of cotton worldwide was grown sustainably in 2018, while the vast majority of major fashion brands have committed to using 100% sustainable cotton by the end of 2025?
  • The supply of carbon credits that many organizations rely on to offset greenhouse gas emissions will fall short by 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2030?

Businesses have often been able to develop unique advantages within environments of scarcity—when there’s a shortage of raw materials, skills, or capacity at a pinch point in a supply chain. That’s not a new concept, but applying it to climate strategy, I think, is.

In the coming years, as more companies pursue net-zero agendas, there will be a fierce struggle to obtain the resources, infrastructure, and capabilities that they need to do so. I want to point you to an excellent article that tackles this topic: The Green Economy Has a Resource-Scarcity Problem, launched a few days ago in Harvard Business Review by my BCG colleagues Dave Young, Rich Hutchinson, and Martin Reeves.

The authors prescribe specific steps that leaders should take now—to both understand where resource scarcity might exist and capitalize on the opportunities that those scarcities surface—while evolving business models for durable relevance. Here are a few that should be part of a broader portfolio of moves:

  • Securing long-term contracts with existing suppliers
  • Acquiring suppliers or developing new sources, both to satisfy future demand and potentially to supply other businesses
  • Redesigning the goods and services that rely on scarce inputs
  • Hedging new scarcity risks through venture investments in technologies and companies aiming to resolve resource bottleneck
  • Participating in coalitions to address supply constraints, including with governments and NGOs

Today, so many business leaders are forming climate strategies based on the pressure, rightly placed, by employees, stockholders, and society at large. But if they turn that concept around and put sustainability—including finding opportunities amid scarcity—at the core of their business models, they have the potential to unlock new sources of competitive advantage and, in turn, accelerate investment and differentiation in climate and beyond.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

The Superpower of Humans Plus AI

APRIL 12, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

At BCG, we’ve been writing for the past couple of years about the opportunity ahead to build “bionic companies”: organizations that combine what technology does best and what people do best, for outcomes far above what either can achieve alone. Our team of data scientists at BCG GAMMA has been working at the frontier of AI, and some of their most exciting recent projects have put the theory of the bionic company into clear practice, with impressive and sometimes unexpected results.

These projects don’t just involve an AI-powered tool, like retail personalization or a pricing widget, which can deliver impressive but narrow commercial results. Instead, they enable skilled operators of huge complex systems to maximize the capabilities of those systems, whether in mining, manufacturing, electricity, or airline ground operations.

These are situations in which a small number of people have to make important decisions, reacting quickly to shifting circumstances. The choices they make can substantially affect overall system performance with significant financial consequences.

I want to share with you one example, which really brings this to life. In our work with a diversified metals miner, BCG GAMMA delivered an AI suite that is now directly integrated into the company’s core asset operations, allowing it to ingest much more information than previously possible across a wide range of input and output variables. Operators can respond to the information in real time and deliver previously unattained performance levels.

The recommendations from AI are embedded in the system’s center of operations and are based on empirical modeling and rules—the operators’ actual experiences. And the operators remain in charge, choosing whether or not to accept what the AI is telling them. After working with the AI for more than a year, the operators are now also using it to test new hypotheses and expand the boundaries of the plant’s capability. At the same time, the AI learns from the operators as they put new approaches into motion—each dependent on the other to reach new levels of performance.

In this industry, finding 2% to 3% production improvement would be considered a success for projects of this nature—especially those not leveraging AI. With the AI suite now in place, the company is realizing an unprecedented 15% uplift in output, and the team is emboldened to pursue even more.

We’re seeing this kind of success across industries—instances of fully integrated AI that depend on a back-and-forth relationship with experienced operators in order to reach full potential. Instead of AI taking over jobs, it can empower even the most highly skilled people in their roles. In complex environments, unlocking the combined power of human and artificial intelligence is the key to building a truly bionic company.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

Personal Reflections—and Introducing the New Reality Weekly Brief

MAY 20, 2020

Dear colleagues,

As we begin to break the surface on a post-COVID world, questions and uncertainties abound. In an effort to help make sense of our new reality and ensure we are proactively sharing our latest knowledge and insights, we are launching a weekly digest for our core communities, including clients, alumni, and staff. You will automatically receive these updates, and we hope that you will find these perspectives useful in the months ahead.

This email is the first in a series that will arrive in your inbox every week from me or one of my BCG colleagues. Maintaining close connections with leaders around the world feels more important to me today than ever before. Even though we are more distant from one another physically, I feel we are much more connected as we adapt to this health crisis and dramatic disruption to the global economy. I’m pleased to share some of our perspectives and insights with you, along with some personal reflections, as we work together to shape a new reality.

One of the most pressing issues is how to restart the economy safely, effectively—and without having to shut it back down again in the near future. As we move into this next phase, we’ll be counting on governments to provide clear guidelines and oversee the smart execution of prudent timelines and new processes. But progress also depends on the resilience and adaptiveness of business, something we’ve talked about at BCG for quite a while but whose importance is now front and center for all of us.

This is a fight—a fight against the virus and a fight for our future. Businesses have to prepare themselves for a battle that isn’t about a one-time change but instead consists of ongoing shifts and the ability to rapidly evolve. Over a year ago, I coauthored an article on winning the ’20s. In it, we discussed the imperative to increase the rate of learning, arguing that advances in artificial intelligence and dramatic increases in data would create a source of competitive advantage for organizations that could draw better insights, rapidly translate those insights into action, and adapt those actions in real time to continually drive greater impact.

We described this imperative as playing out over the course of this new decade, but COVID-19 has collapsed this timeline from years to months and weeks. Right now, we need to build control towers to rapidly adapt to a virus that will rear its head in unexpected places, quickly understand and react to changing customer behavior, and adjust offerings and restructure businesses to reflect new conditions around the world. We must also build new, resilient models—from supply chains to balance sheets—that reflect the greater uncertainties in the world.

I wish we could all be thinking about how to get back to normal, but we will be far from normal for many months to come and instead must look to lead in a new reality. At BCG, we’ll work through the toughest decisions with you as the post-COVID world starts to emerge. Learn more here about leading in this new reality and creating advantage through resilience as well as other priorities we think leaders should be focusing on now. I’m including more insights below—ideas that I hope you’ll find helpful as we navigate through these complex times.

And as we all know, sometimes a conversation to talk through an issue is worth more than lots of emails and written perspectives. If you want to connect, please reach out to us. My colleagues and I value your trust in us and would be delighted to engage with you on the difficult and sensitive issues you are wrestling with. We may be apart, but we are in this together.

Rich Lesser
Global Chair

BCG's Weekly Briefs