Vienna, October 19, 2018 - Making the case for sustainability – what can the Goals do for business and what can business do for the Goals?
The UN Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) and 169 sub-goals came into force in 2015 with all 193 UN member states on board. However, they are not just to be understood as an invention of state actors to incorporate them into their policy strategies and implement them on a national level – rather, it needs cooperation on the business side as well to make the SDGs effective. For the Goals to succeed, it is important that state as well as private sectors rally behind them and work together towards their achievement.
This presents challenges as well as opportunities for business actors. The SDGs serve as a guidance and evaluation tool that businesses can use to align and measure their projects and initiatives accordingly and explain how those are supposed to generate positive social, environmental and economic impacts.
Since the SDGs, although not legally binding, are nevertheless defined in terms of a country’s national goals, companies that integrate them into their corporate policies can align themselves with state actors and help them in the implementation of the Goals, thereby gaining competitive advantage over more traditionally-operating companies without SDG focus. If companies are able to make a measurable difference in their respective selected area, this approach can help them win recognition as an enterprise dedicated to the goal of sustainability. This recognition can, in turn, result in gaining competitive advantage, and secure positive acknowledgement.
Also, and perhaps most interesting for companies is the prospect of a functioning environmental and social infrastructure to guarantee business success. After all, success in business requires a stable society and a positive business and investment climate. In this sense, adherence to the SDGs is also in the self-interest not only of state, but also of private actors.
An often overlooked, but important role of the Global Goals, is as a tool to encourage collaboration and investment. In addition, the SDGs offer an option to open up new markets and attract private investment by impact investors that make their investments dependent on sustainability criteria.
How to Incorporate the SDGs into Business Models
Companies can decide for themselves how many goals to pursue and where to place their priorities. The most useful approach in selecting SDGs to commit to is perhaps for individual companies to identify topics of particular relevance and make this analysis the basis for a respective SDG plan. The first task would be to identify the most appropriate Global Goal for their respective businesses and to focus their sustainability efforts on achieving this target.
Most important is for the company to select those SDGs that closely correspond to their business orientation and where they can achieve the greatest impact.
Focusing on one or several goals that are identified as particularly relevant makes most sense for those organisations whose core business purpose or products are closely aligned to a particular issue. For others, it might be a better strategy to incorporate the entire SDG agenda as their framework for sustainability.
Responsibilities and Challenges
The main responsibility will be to make the SDGs a binding commitment – and not just a label to stick on projects to increase saleability. This requires constant monitoring and measuring of what impact, in terms of the SDGs, a company’s policy has.
No Low-Hanging Fruit
Achievement of the 2030 Agenda will not be easy – it will require, among others, the willingness and flexibility to assess and adapt the current systems and practices. “Business as usual” is no longer an option. It is important that the private sector embraces the SDGs proactively instead of seeing the Goals as a hindrance to effective entrepreneurship. The latter will depend on several factors – a very important one will be the question of how the goal of sustainability and positive ecological and social impact can be combined with financial profitability – after all, the number one priority for a business to survive. Here, the state will also be called upon to act – on the one hand to remove bureaucratic obstacles for businesses with an SDG focus and, even more importantly, to offer benefits to and actively support those businesses that are ready to embrace the SDGs. In the achievement of the Agenda 2030, state and private actors must collaborate.
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