The importance of regional engagement and education to achieve widespread sustainability

Global Goals Week is a shared commitment to accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now at a midpoint in the timeline, it’s an opportunity to come together to cultivate ideas, share knowledge and build partnerships to help achieve these goals. Success will not only need global collaboration, but also a focus on the power of local communities to help identify solutions.

For businesses specifically, it is fundamental that ESG strategies set sustainability goals and targets globally, but also consider how a company can have the most positive influence at a local level in each region.

At Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I, we are guided by our company value of Growing for Good – a commitment to positive change inside and outside of our business, driving action that benefits our consumers, partners, employees, and the communities in which we operate. It’s a global value but which informs local business decisions, helping us grow a successful, sustainable business for the long term.

Many locals can form a global shift

While global sustainability ambitions are important, leaders must understand that small changes in the regions they operate in can still create impact at scale, even if it feels small. In addition to government incentives and initiatives, businesses should be taking responsibility for the progress in their individual communities which can then create a ripple effect.

This can be achieved by engaging local communities in a shared vision to help improve the environmental and social factors of the areas where they live.

Challenges and opportunities to consider

Identifying local environmental concerns

It is crucial for businesses to recognise the intricate differences that sustainable practices and climate change pose in the regions they operate in; not all regions will have the same pressing issues or priorities. Businesses need to consider how employees and residents of local communities could be involved in driving the sustainable agenda forward.

Working with local charities, NGOs and other sustainability partners can help companies have a greater impact as they understand the real issues in the area and how best to enact change. A great example of this is our partnership at Suntory Beverage and Food GB&I (SBF GB&I) with Severn Rivers Trust on our water education programme, Mizuiku. This is a global programme launched by Suntory Holdings in 2004 in Japan to teach younger generations about the importance of water and the forests that nurture it and understand how to look after it for the future.

Severn Rivers Trust is the only charitable trust to cover the whole of the UK’s longest river, the River Severn, and as our partner we are able to draw on their expertise to talk to families about issues relevant to them in their local area. The programme also explores how to make small changes to help preserve and protect water, instilling daily behaviours that can help to create greater change.

Started in Japan, the programme has expanded to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, France, China, Spain and – for the first time this year -the UK, with tailored initiatives for each country. To date, 458,700 people across the world have taken part, demonstrating the benefit of engaging local communities, to ultimately create a wider, global impact.

Another reason that businesses should support local causes is the positive impact it can have on driving employee engagement. An initiative where they can see the direct impact in communities local to them is far more powerful for employees as it not only becomes much more tangible, but presents opportunities for them to get involved and make a difference.

Playing to your strengths and expanding horizons

Sustainability is multifaceted. Businesses must reflect on where their priorities and focus should be and consider how their industry knowledge, areas of expertise would have the greatest positive impact.

As much as it is now essential for businesses to engage with sustainability initiatives, it needs to feel authentic – both for employees but also to the communities in which they operate. At SBF GB&I for example, our business would not exist without water – it is a fundamental resource and our responsibility to protect it. This therefore feeds into our sustainability priorities; not only the development of our water education programme, but local investment in technology to help reduce water consumption.

Final thoughts

Starting small may feel like a drop in the ocean when faced with the huge challenges and pressure of tackling climate change, but the long-term impacts are significant. Businesses should look to their immediate environment to think about what role they could play in making a positive, sustainable difference where they operate, and the greater impact will soon follow.

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