Could an ‘SDG100’ raise the bar for business action on global goals?

The formation of a movement that champions the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a similar fashion to how the RE100 drives commitment to renewable energy is just one of the potential solutions being explored by business leaders to move away from a "business as usual" approach to sustainability.

The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) – a network of more than 8,000 senior leaders representing business, the public sector and civil society – has claimed that new drivers are needed to promote systemic change towards a business sphere that delivers the SDGs.

CISL and its recently formed Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group published its latest report ‘Towards a sustainable economy’, to identify new business approaches that can drive progress towards the SDGs. The findings of the report suggest that a “science-based perspective” and a willingness to map against “inconvenient versions of the future” were essential in unlocking new mindsets to help alleviate some of humanity’s biggest issues.

“Delivering the SDGs will require, and trigger, structural transformations. In order to manage the shared risks and opportunities companies, governments, investors and other actors need to work effectively together in a coordinated manner,” CISL’s programme director Aris Vrettos said.

“There are benefits for early movers and leaders across the sectors surveyed in this report but the full rewards may rely on an enabling environment in which business helps to shape the operating context needed for a sustainable economy.”


Notably, the report suggests that the formation of an SDG-orientated equivalent to the RE100 commitment to source 100% renewable energy could help drive action in this area. Other action areas for the future could include the delivery of 10 “rewiring” tasks, investigating the fiscal impacts needed to reach the goals, and a review of collaborative opportunities for value creation.

CISL also listed eight business-led approaches that can help deliver the SDGs, including treating the goals as a holistic agenda, demonstrating leadership of key areas and setting sector-specific visions for a sustainable future.

The report utilised key insights and expertise from companies including Marks & Spencer, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Hammerson, Tetra Pak and others. Findings from these companies suggest that forward-thinking firms can benefit from meeting the SDGs, with resilience and capability in dealing with severe commercial consequences listed as reasons to champion the goals.

Raising the bar

One of the approaches suggested was for business to help governments “raise the bar” in certain areas. Tetra Pak was the first in its sector to commit to sustainable sourcing practices, and the company’s vice president of environment Mario Abreu suggested that businesses can act as beacons to highlight how progress can be made by policymakers and other businesses in the same sector.

“Policy makers can hear conflicting stories from companies within the same sector that find themselves in different circumstances, and levels of sustainability ambition,” Abreu said. “Which voice do they listen to? As businesses, we should work to find common ground and suggest a long-term coordinated strategy benefitting our sector and its stakeholders.”

The report arrives as research suggests that many businesses are failing to follow through on their pledged commitments to the SDGs. Two years on from adoption, a UN Global Compact study has found that more than one-third of the 9,000 participating businesses still haven’t set any measurable targets.

In fact, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres claimed last week that $3-5trn annual investment will be needed to finance the SDG agenda.

Matt Mace

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