Sustainable Development Goals: Businesses urged to take the lead

Sir Richard Branson, Unilever's Paul Polman and Professor Stephen Hawking are among those that have thrown their support behind the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set to be authorised today (25 September).

World leaders are meeting at the New York City Climate Week to comb through the final details of the 17 SDGs that will replace the Millennium Development Goals; with an aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and justice and combat climate change by 2030.

Yesterday, a host of business leaders attended a not-for-profit BTeam forum in New York, founded by business leaders, to address how businesses can adopt the SDGs and act as a catalyst towards greener and more sustainable energy use and environments.


BTeam leader Polman, who recently receieved the UN’s Champion of the Earth Award, said: “The SDGs can’t be solved without business. It has to mainly be done by the private sector, they’ll have the opportunities as long as CEOs understand that the SDGs are the biggest opportunity we have.

“Businesses need to get the right indicators in place. If you put 500 indicators in, you lose the industry so what you need to do is make them transparent and hold people accountable. We live in the age of transparency, and transparency drives trust.

“We are at a point that the cost of taking action is cheaper than the cost of taking no action.”  

Polman added that governments should put the frameworks in place to hold companies more accountable for their actions, as well as targeting the millennial generation who are increasingly aware of the importance of resonsible business. 

Big innovations

Fellow BTeam leader Branson turned the spotlight to the COP21 Paris Climate Change Conference, highlighting its importance in implementing the SDGs worldwide. “It would be, I think, pretty dreadful if we don’t have a big success in Paris,” Branson said. “Success looks like it will be enormously exciting but to get there it needs government and businesses to work together.”

Branson also weighed in on the carbon tax debate, adding: “Success needs to see a cap on the amount of coal we use and no more drilling in the arctic, it needs a carbon tax and for governments to fund big innovations, by taking money from dirty tax and putting it into a big innovation pot.

“Countries that are big oil producers, coal producers are going to have to adapt but the vast majority of the world will benefit. It will pull everyone out of poverty and it will be a really exciting world to aim for.”

Among the 17 SDGs, goal 7 aims to ensure worldwide access to affordable, modern energy sources; goal 12 aims to develop frameworks on sustainable production and consumption programmes while goal 13 will strengthen resilience to climate-related hazards. The 193 world leaders implementing the SDGs will also adopt 169 smaller targets, ranging from ocean protection to improved energy systems.

Baffled businesses

Despite many business leaders pledging their support for the SDGs, new research released today by global consultancy Corporate Citizenship suggests that firms still aren’t clear on the opportunities that the SDGs present.

According to the study, nearly a quarter of practitioners working in business say that, while they are aware of the global goals, they have no current plans to do anything about them. A further 40% are exploring the implications of SDGs but are yet to commit to taking action.

Only 20% of businesses are currently involved in business collaborations on the SDGs, yet 16% of are not aware of the SDGs stand for or of the business opportunities that they represent.

From My World to Our World – What the SDGs Mean for Business

Writing in an exclusive feature for edie, Corporate Citizenship associate director Richard Hardyment said: “If business is to help to bring about meaningful change, it will require complex, multi-layered partnerships around a shared set of priorities.

“Crucially, they will extend across the value chain and where each partner brings unique skills and strengths. Through these collaborations, companies can scale up their impacts and build stronger relationships.”

While businesses are busy implementing SDGs into their operations, a number of celebrities have backed the Goals in the build-up to the Paris talks. Hawking released a ‘Global Goals’ message to the world (below), while the likes of One Direction, Beyonce and numerous footballers have promoted the SDGs through various social media campaigns.

Matt Mace

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