It has been 3 years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched. This anniversary is both a celebration and a gentle global goals reminder for committed cross-sector, multi-stakeholder action.
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Global ambitions: 17 goals
Since 2015, the larger global ambition has been to slow down climate change, end poverty, and tackle inequalities within and between countries. The specifics laid out in the 17 global goals have created an agenda for discussion and a road plan for action. Thus, climate change call for action is both its own goal (SDG 13: Climate Action) and represented in a number of other goals (SDG 11: Sustainable Cities; SDG 14: Life Below Water, SDG 15: Life on Land).
Similarly, ending poverty and tackling inequalities are broken down into several goals. Certainly, SDG 2: Zero Hunger, SDG 3: Good Health, and SDG 4: Quality education, and so forth, provide depth to the overarching target.
Global business to take the lead
Fulfilling the ambition of sustainability in all policies requires a stronger commitment from the private sector. Because companies use their products and services to penetrate new markets, they tend to achieve a higher impact on current consumption habits and production methods. We hope that by 2030, this impact will be increasingly positive – that is, responsible in terms of both consumption and production.
The road to sustainability starts with clear priorities.
The global non-profit BSR has suggested a set of steps for companies to take towards sustainability-driven business practices. These steps include:
- Align current initiatives to contribute to priority SDGs
- Prioritise SDGs that are most strategically aligned with business competencies
- Establish KPIs and, most importantly,
- Join partnerships (e.g. public, private, civil society)
Reporting as a Global Goal Accomplishment 2015-2018
On this 25th of September, the question on everyone’s mind is: what have we achieved since 2015 with regards to the SDGs?
A 2017 PwC business survey tells us that a business transition to the SDGs has been slow. As detailed in the report, “62% of the companies studied to discuss the SDGs in their reporting. Only 37% have prioritized individual SDGs”.
A more recent study, published by KPMG, has identified that:
- The SDGs most commonly prioritised by leading companies are Climate Action (SDG13), Decent Work & Economic Growth (SDG8) and Good Health & Wellbeing (SDG3)
- The SDGs least commonly prioritised are Life on Land (SDG15), Zero Hunger (SDG2) and Life Below Water (SDG14)
Therefore, some of the more well-recognised companies are halfway there in terms of reporting on SDGs, but less than halfway there in terms of industry-specific prioritising of the SDGs in their business strategy.
Working out the business case for global impact
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development businesses still lack a clear understanding of the business case. The struggle to articulate the business case within their own operations is the greatest barrier to integration and transition efforts to internal SDG engagement. No internal company priorities for SDGs means, no effective partnerships within or outside the relevant sector/industry.
Ultimately, the global impact will come from partnerships at the local/individual, regional/community, and global/human society levels. If less than 50% of companies have identified individual priority SDGs, how can they form partnerships critical to sustainable development?
SDG thinking: training for clarification
The SDGs tackle cross-cutting policy areas, where intervention in one can have positive and/or negative in another. One example of this domino effect is urbanisation and the goal of sustainable cities.
In managing and controlling urbanisation, stakeholders have many trade-offs to consider. For example, should farmers move off their land for new urban housing? Should government interventions discourage people from moving to the cities? What are the best ways to promote social cohesion among urban citizens new and old?
Actions by any stakeholder that strengthen the nexus between food, health, ecology, livelihoods, and identities are always welcome.
In conclusion, going forward with 2030 goals, companies will find out how their core values and operations overlap with relevant topics by focusing on human aspects of their output. Human, rather than capital-focused business strategies will better promote know-how, clarity, and effective action.