In the early 70s, a group of visionary women got together in Frauenfeld, Switzerland, to debate why a banana, which does not grow in Switzerland, was cheaper than an apple, which does. Little did they know that their conversation would inspire, 25 years later, the launch of what is today a leading sustainability management consulting firm, BSD Consulting - Business. Sustainability. Development.
These women, known as the Banana Women, created the gebana association in 1988 with the goal of improving the working conditions of the banana workers and their families, and to spark a fair trade movement for the banana sector.
Nearly a decade later, while visiting banana producers in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, Peter Teuscher, working at the time as the Secretary-General of gebana, expressed disappointment, “after so many years of struggle, the working conditions of workers and producers had not improved substantially.”
As gebana began to achieve its vision of adding further social, economic and environmental value to existing commodity supply chains, another awakening was taking place thousands of miles away, in the boondocks of Brazil.
During a visit to rural communities in Brazil, a UNICEF local officer suggested that it would be productive to direct investments for development into rural communities in order to prevent the migration of families with children to poor urban areas. “I thought, yes, this makes total sense,” said Beat Grüninger, at the time, working as the Press Officer for the Swiss Committee for UNICEF and also as a Board Member of gebana. “Peter and I began discussing possibilities of how to advance socio-economic development and fair trade, and the concept of BSD evolved around starting an ethical trade organization,” said Beat. “The Banana Women’s civil society movement influenced our idea of creating a business that they had initially dreamed of,” he added.
In May 1998, in Switzerland, BSD - Business meets Social Development - was officially launched as an incubator for sustainable enterprises. Together, Peter and Beat spearheaded the transformation process of the NGO gebana into a company that would be able to produce, trade and distribute ethically sourced goods to conscious consumers. While Peter structured the management systems of gebana in Switzerland, Beat’s focus in Brazil was to establish GMO-free supply chains of soybeans with small farmers.
As tools and services were developed and adapted, BSD gradually evolved in its early years to become a platform for solutions to address social issues in the supply chains of retailers, food and textile producers. In 2006, with Felipe Arango joining the team as partner, BSD expanded to Colombia and the BSD Group AG was founded.
“I would say that when Felipe Arango joined us in Brazil and later launched a very successful operation in Colombia, it marked a key moment for the evolution of BSD and we decided the time had come to launch the BSD Group.” says Peter. The brand also went through an important transformation shortly thereafter, changing its name from Business meets Social Development to Business. Sustainability. Development.
Beat explains that “By the time we established the BSD Group, the concept of sustainability had become mainstream, taking us beyond the social realm and into the environmental and economic arenas.”
After launching the BSD Group and a well-structured licensing model, BSD began to expand its activities worldwide, aggregating another eight offices across four continents.