‘Fruits of the fourth revolution’ key for business to tackle struggling SDGs

Leveraging the power of connectivity and digitalisation will be key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the "fruits of the fourth industrial revolution" inspiring large-scale action, a new report has found.

To mark the one-year anniversary since the launch of the United Nations’ (UN) SDGs, technical certification body DNV GL has partnered with the UN Global Compact initiative to highlight what businesses will have to do in order to champion a global movement to fulfil the goals.

The Future of Spaceship Earth report examines how the private sector can establish the framework for humanity to comply with, in order to eradicate concerning global megatrends and promote a healthy, safe and low-carbon future.

UN Global Compact’s executive director Lise Kingo said: “For business, the SDGs have provided a new “North Star” for a world in constant change. In addition to identifying where we have to be in 2030 to create a sustainable world that leaves nobody behind, the SDGs also outline new markets and opportunities for companies everywhere. To meet the SDGs by 2030, the time to act is now.

“In order to succeed, we will need to invent, develop, and launch countless new ideas and solutions within a very short time. Companies need to start looking through the SDG lens right away – imagining how their operations, products, and services can support the realities of our planet and better serve markets, both today and in the future.”

As part of the report, 17 “frontier companies” – including Unilever, Siemens and M&S – were partnered with specific goals to act as “pioneers of a new frontier” that examined the likelihood of each goal being met, and what technologies and methods could act as a catalyst in order to reach them by 2030.

 The report notes that none of the SDGs will be met across all regions of the world, as emerging economies and regions tied to fossil fuels struggle to incorporate new global megatrends. Despite this, goals that revolve around health, education, water and sanitation, energy and industry have the most positive outlook.

According to the report the world is on course to eclipse its carbon budget by 2037. In order to stave off effects of climate change, the 1.5C trajectory offered at the Paris Climate talks is becoming increasingly necessary.

Business magnitude 

While the report believes that energy levels will peak by 2030, the lack of global action on climate change is viewed as a “showstopper” that could derail all SDG progress unless combatted. Fortunately, the report notes that businesses are in the “unique position” to drive the magnitude of climate action.

Representing 60% of the world’s GDP, businesses can make the case for sustainable development and act as “swing factor” in global action. As seen with the 17 companies aligned to the goals, businesses are placing the SDGs as integral parts of business operations – with some even adjusting CSR goals to compensate.  

In order to accelerate action on the SDGs, the report notes that companies will increasingly have to embrace the “age of digitalisation”, which not only allows business to co-innovate with consumers and suppliers, but also improves transparency and communication.

The launch of the report coincided with the establishment of two new initiatives led by the UN Global Compact. Firstly, the Compact will partner with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to create the SDG Leadership through the Reporting scheme, a new framework designed to advance how companies report on internal and external SDG progress. It builds on GRI’s GOLD reporting membership programme, which aids businesses that offer greater transparency on sustainability issues in their CSR reports.

The Compact has also launched three new projects alongside Sustainia, UNEP-FI and Volans, all aimed at shaping how businesses interact and embark on sustainable initiatives. The Global Solutions Platform with Sustainia will map and monitor sustainable solutions from around the world to see how scalable they are.

Catalysing Financial Innovation with UNEP-FI will represent more than 1,500 financial institutions worth $60trn to fund innovative projects that could enable the low-carbon transition. Finally Volans’ Project Breakthrough will connect corporates to start-ups to explore disruptive new technology such as Artificial Intelligence – recently used by Google to lower energy consumption – Big Data, and the Internet of Things.

Matt Mace

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