How can companies align with the Sustainable Development Goals and why does it matter?
Outi Marin, Head of Sustainability Reporting at Smurfit Kappa, explains how businesses can create a competitive advantage whilst contributing to a more sustainable world.
Today, the world’s leading companies are not only focused on economic growth but are also key players in shaping a sustainable future. The Sustainable Development Goals (‘SDGs’) have emerged as the framework that not only addresses the global challenges but also unlocks substantial value for companies.
In 2015, with the SDGs, the United Nations expanded on the lessons learned from its Millennium Development Goals to make sustainable development a task for everyone. Involving 193 countries, the 17 SDGs call for the collective action of governments, society, businesses, communities, and individuals to drive positive change, all aligned to the same SDG framework to achieve the greatest impact.
Now in 2023, we are halfway between the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and its target date, but, among others, the climate emergency continues at pace, with the 1.5 degree Celsius needing to be met in this decade. The latest UN SDG progress report shows that only 15% of the Goals are on track. This low realisation of the SDGs tells us that the answers and outcomes are not easy, but it also demonstrates the need for continued acceleration of the work towards achieving results for the Goals’ success, and to focus on the SDGs that you can truly impact.
Aligning the most relevant UN SDGs with their business plan provides companies with a strategic framework to address sustainability challenges, capitalise on business opportunities, and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable future. The temptation will be to say you, as a business, have an impact across all 17 SDGs, as it is hard to say any one of the 17 is not important. But this is where the risk arrives. The SDGs are not for greenwashing. It’s through alignment and materiality mapping that companies can identify which SDGs are most relevant to their industry and their products and services. This in turn allows companies to assess how their operations and value chain contribute and make a measurable impact. It is key that we are honest and transparent on where we have impacts, be they positive or negative, and then report against our actions to drive positive change.
This year at Smurfit Kappa we published our second SDG report in which we focused on our delivery to the global Goals. It’s through setting measurable targets and key performance indicators that as a business we can focus and report transparently on how we are reducing carbon emissions, ensuring responsible consumption and production, improving gender equality, and our commitment to supporting a greener, bluer planet. We focus on delivering a measurable impact to six SDGs: 3, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 15.
By looking beyond our own operations and collaborating with our suppliers, communities, and like-minded organisations, we can leverage expertise, resources, and influence to collectively create social, economic, and environmental value. The idea behind the SDGs is that when governments, NGOs, and businesses align to the same framework, collectively we achieve more.
Creating shared value
There is a strong business case for aligning business strategy and sustainable practices to the SDGs. By understanding the company’s material topics, risks, and opportunities, and linking them with the SDGs, businesses can enhance their resilience against disruptions to operations and supply chain vulnerabilities and also encourage innovation, by driving the development of new products, and services, and are well positioned to benefit from a growing market share.
By adopting the SDG framework, businesses consider growth in terms of where economic impact, environmental stewardship, and social equity are equally prioritised for positive change on a globally impactful scale.
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