There is general agreement that the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development can only be achieved if all areas of society, including governments, NGOs and the private sector, act together.
Under the new framework, businesses have an explicit, central role in ‘ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality & injustice, and fixing climate change’. They are being called upon to play their part, but what part should that be?
Robert Stevens, Director of Partnerships at ClimateCare explains why the Sustainable Development Goals are good for business and why business is good for the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) offer a framework against which your business can align, measure and explain its actions to operate more responsibly and deliver positive social, environmental and economic impacts.
Across the wide range of corporate partners we work with, three key strategies are emerging:
1) Rally behind a flagship Global Goal
The first strategy is to identify the most appropriate Global Goal for your business and to focus your sustainability efforts on making progress towards this target.
For this approach to be successful you need to select a goal that makes sense for your business. One that aligns to your brand and core values, makes sense to your stakeholders and reflects the impacts of your products and services.
For example it might make sense for a drinks company to focus on SDG 6 – Clean Water & Sanitation and support a programme to provide safe drinking water to communities around the world, whereas a food retailer may want to align with SDG 2 – Zero Hunger relating to food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture.
Aligning your sustainability programme with a specific Global Goal gives a clear target, purpose and theme to your CSR activity, making it easier to communicate to staff and stakeholders. It shows that you are aligning your efforts with those of the global community and working in an area identified by the UN as a priority for action, which by extension validates the need for your programme.
If you are able to make a measurable difference in your selected area, this approach can help you gain brand awareness, competitive advantage, and secure positive acknowledgement.
Whilst this approach can be a good way to establish focus and motivate your organisation, companies adopting it must remain mindful of the wider impacts related to their business operations and have a strategy in place to manage these. Failing to do so could lead to negative impacts that undermine the positive work you deliver against your selected flagship Goal.
2) Using the Global Goals as a framework for action
Focusing on a flagship Global Goal makes most sense for organisations whose core business purpose or products are closely aligned to a particular issue. For others it can be more appropriate to use the whole suite of Global Goals as a framework for sustainability.
There are complex relationships between the goals. For example, you cannot design a programme to feed and support a growing population (SDG 2) without considering water (SDG 6) and the environment (SDG 13&15). Across the board, these challenges are interlinked and need to be tackled hand in hand.
By using the Global Goals as a UN endorsed framework for action, you can map the social and environmental impacts of your business, and create a plan to cut costs and risks and maximise opportunities to deliver positive impact.
By taking a holistic approach you can prioritise and plan activity that will strengthen your supply chain, build local market awareness and generate positive partnerships with local governments, businesses and influencers – helping you build a sustainable and profitable future for your business, as well as delivering towards the goals themselves.
3) Using the Goals for collaboration
An often overlooked, but important role of the Global Goals, is as a tool to encourage collaboration and shared investment – something that ClimateCare is experienced in facilitating.
All businesses require environmental and social infrastructure to operate and grow.
The Global Goals provide a common language which business can use to engage with each other, investing in partnership programmes to provide the shared infrastructure each party requires – for example clean air, reliable energy, efficient transport, education, and health.
The results not only improve life for some of the world’s poorest and hardest to reach communities – they can grow your business, build new markets and strengthen shared supply chains – delivering real business value for all parties.
It’s not just about what the Global Goals can do for your business, but what business can do for the Global Goals.
However you use the Global Goals, as a business, one of the first questions you’ll ask is how you can deliver positive impacts at the speed and scale required, how you will measure results and how to ensure best value for money.
This takes us from thinking about what value your business can derive from the Sustainable Development Goals, to the value that sustainability can derive from the involvement of business.
At ClimateCare, we believe that achieving the Global Goals means unlocking mainstream private sector investment, alongside aid and public funding. And this requires a market led approach to delivery – understanding the needs of local communities, scaling proven solutions by making sure they are of high quality and affordable and accessible to everyone, developing new inclusive markets that will sustain themselves in the long term, measuring results and using these results to inform and drive future investment decisions.
The Global Goals are an opportunity to rethink how we tackle these global challenges. We need the power of business behind these goals, creating innovative partnerships, driving shared investment and creating long term sustainable business models that can secure a profitable future for people and the environment.
We look forward to standing with you and using the power of all our businesses, for good.