Businesses are 'the new activists', claims UN research

An increasing number of businesses are looking beyond their own short-term interests and working to create the sustainable society they want to operate in.

The report said a new alliance is emerging between progressive businesses and civil society actors

The report said a new alliance is emerging between progressive businesses and civil society actors

That’s the conclusion of a survey of more than 5,500 business leaders from around the globe conducted for a new report by the UN Global Compact, certification body DNV GL, and Scandinavian think-tank Monday Morning Global Institute.

The report found that business leaders are engaged in a variety of activities outside traditional business practices, including tackling food waste, introducing low carbon transport into cities and reducing ocean pollution.

“The survey data shows that business leaders are perceived to be the new advocates for systemic changes, alongside civil society,” said the report.

“While the task of tackling entrenched social problems once firmly belonged in the realm of government, a clear shift is taking place: progressive businesses are working for the society they want to operate in.

“This is not motivated simply by altruism, but rather by an increasing recognition that social risks are detrimental to the bottom line and may present business opportunities in addressing them.”

Seismic shift

The report said that a new alliance is emerging between progressive businesses and civil society actors who hold similar sustainable goals.

“This promises to strengthen the social bottom line on the sustainability agenda, together with the environmental and economic bottom lines, ushering a new kind of social capitalism. It is large scale societal change from the bottom up.”

This type of partnership can be seen in initiatives such as the Paris Pledge for Action, which saw 400 businesses align with international NGO’s to commit to the principles of the Paris agreement.

Schemes like WWF’s Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers' Principles also see businesses and NGO’s sharing information to facilitate sustainable development.

Political inaction

By contrast, the report – which used respondent’s answers to identify five global risks and 15 opportunities for 2016 – criticised governments for exhibiting a “lack of political will to catalyse change”.

Opportunities ranked by business potential

Answers from governmental sector respondents revealed that even they do not believe government has the capacity to pursue many of the opportunities, the report said.

However, the research indicates that technology can help ambitious businesses overcome a lack of Government support and achieve their sustainable goals regardless. The top business opportunity identified by the research is smart farming; using digital tools to help address the emerging food crisis.

“Technology plays an important role in all of the top opportunities this year,” said the report. “We see this exemplified in efforts to address youth unemployment by closing the skills gap via digital learning and large-scale health initiatives. In these efforts, the opportunity mind-set is the driving force, while technology is the vehicle.”

Brad Allen


| low carbon | sustainable development | technology


CSR & ethics | New business models
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