What companies can do to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals

3rd November 2017 by CMIA

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the year 2030. The SDGs propose to end poverty and hunger, reduce inequalities and address urgent challenges such as climate change.

Governments, businesses, civil society and citizens from all over the world were involved in the definition of the goals. Their strength stems from the universal nature of the agreement reached and the ambition of the proposed aims. Achieving them requires an unprecedented mobilisation on the part of all sectors of society; and companies have a very important role to play. Achieving the SDGs will require combining the effort of the public sector, business, investors and civil society.

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission identifies the value of business opportunities for the private sector in four key areas: food, cities, energy and materials, and health and welfare. “They could account for more than 12 trillion dollars a year for the private sector by 2030 (a figure that represents 10% of the world GDP forecast by then). The investment necessary to realize these opportunities is of the order of 4 trillion dollars annually.”

In summary, the commitment of companies to the SDGs is based on both their responsibility as well as the opportunity to participate in the businesses that will contribute to its achievement.

Faced with this exciting challenge and through the Global Compact, a voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments supporting the UN goals, more than 9,000 companies around the world have committed to supporting these aims. However, more than half of these companies have not set specific sustainability targets, only 55% of them are monitoring their progress towards their aims, and only 29% have studied whether the measures they have taken have any effect beyond their company.

Almost 7,500 of these companies have been expelled from the Global Compact, as they have not submitted an annual progress report. The group has also recently expelled companies that receive their income from tobacco production and nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

So, as there is still a long way to go, the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership (CISL) formed the “Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group” and a number of leading companies including Marks & SpencerJaguar Land Rover, Hammerson plc, Tetra PakNovo Nordisk and Keller plc published a report highlighting the benefits businesses can expect to reap by delivering on the SDG agenda: Towards a Sustainable Economy: The Commercial Imperative for business to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This report sets out the commercial case for action. It examines how delivery of the SDGs is imperative for business, in terms of both anticipated corporate growth and revenue opportunities, and also the cost of inaction, such as opportunities missed or value destroyed. The intention of this initial assessment is to provide helpful insights into commercially relevant trends, and encourage more companies to explore their individual opportunities for change, including how to create and protect value.

The report is relevant for anyone who is interested in better understanding the commercial drivers for sustainable business, and the opportunities for change. It is primarily aimed at business leaders considering their commitment and approach to the SDGs, and policy makers tasked with their implementation. It is intended to encourage business leaders to examine their own case and capabilities for change and to engage effectively, and collaboratively, with the SDGs.

You can read the full report here