Stakeholder engagement is—and will remain—a core element of the sustainability toolkit.

It is a fundamental component of materiality assessments, which are then used to inform sustainability strategy, reporting, and disclosure. Without input from key stakeholder groups, any approach to sustainability will be limited by an organization’s self-interest and inward focus.


In 2019, the landscape of digital communication, international agreements and investor expectations makes stakeholder engagement more important than ever: Digital and social media amplify voices of the public, including civil society organizations; international agreements such as the UN Guiding Principles and Sustainable Development Goals have been established and globally accepted; and investors are significantly more focused on company approaches to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues, which in turn necessitate consideration of all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

We first published this five-step guide to stakeholder engagement in 2011. We have updated the guide as a response to developments over the last seven years, all of which necessitate a far clearer focus on stakeholder trust by corporations. This report aims to provide a comprehensive toolkit that incorporates the latest thinking while maintaining the clarity and practicality of our five-step approach:


BSR’s Five-Step Approach

Graphic of BSR's five-steps to stakeholder engagement

  1. Engagement Strategy: Set vision and level of ambition for future engagement, and review past engagements.
  2. Stakeholder Mapping: Define criteria for identitfying and prioritizing stakeholders, and select engagement mechanisms.
  3. Preparation: Focus on long-term goals to drive the approach, determine logistics for the engagement, and set the rules.
  4. Engagement: Conduct the engagement itself, ensuring equitable stakeholder contribution and mitigating tension while remaining focused on priorities.
  5. Action Plan: Identify opportunities from feedback and determine actions, revisit goals, and plan next steps for follow-up and future engagement.

Thumbnail of report cover and interior pages