Is linking core business to sustainable development goals good for sustainability communication only?
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have established a powerful framework encouraging multi-sector, multi-player collaboration beyond national borders. The main idea behind the SDGs is to find diverse solutions to complex problems with local and global partners.
In this regard, businesses have a powerful role to play. Their operations interact and influence states, organizations, and individuals – all the actors in the international system that can make a difference in SDG implementation.
Not all businesses understand the role they play in society. Social impact is difficult, but necessary to demonstrate as a business, to compete with others in the same industry. Moreover, social impact mentality takes time to cultivate for two reasons: lack of know-how and lack of strong communications tools. That is why, a successful transition to a new, SDG-driven business strategy requires both training of individuals (i.e. employees, leadership), and a company-wide effort to tell the right story.
Aligning their activities with the 17 goals will incentivise companies to make new contextual considerations. Such as reflecting deeper on core values and revising business strategies to demonstrate more market value.
Successful transition of a few
Unlike many countries in Europe and the rest of the world, Nordic countries generally have a good starting position for SDG implementation. Thanks to the ease of starting a business, financial protection of investors, and generally good education systems that support individuals. Within this context, many companies in the Danish business environment, especially those with high international profiles, have done well with regards to sustainability. One successful case is a Danish pharmaceutical giant in diabetic care. They advance not one, but several goals at the same time: business ethics (SDG 13), environmental responsibility (SDG 6&7), as well as access to care (SDG 3).
While Denmark and its internationally-oriented companies do fine on SDG indicators. The transition of other organisations in different contexts has been slow.
Slow transition of others
A PwC 2017 business survey presents recent business efforts by looking at their corporate reporting activities, in which
“62% of the companies discuss the SDGs in their reporting. Only 37% have prioritized individual SDGs however. The other 25% continue to discuss the goals in general terms.” – SDG Reporting Challenge 2017
The PwC report shows that businesses are generally slow at aligning marketing campaigns and the supply of their products/services with the language and targets of the SDGs.
It is difficult to implement the SDGs as part of core values and everyday business activity. Leadership and employee resource groups are not always clear about what and how. In order to mobilize their full range of expertise, companies need more know-how through workforce training.
Instead of spending an awful amount of time and resources focusing on things that are not effective. A business can acquire sustainability know-how by creating a focused training environment for its employees across departments, functions, and locations. Such training helps to upskill employees’ understanding of Sustainability and how to implement sustainable solutions within the company and departments.
Which of the sustainable development goals to align with
Maybe your business is already creating value for society. But how much of your work is part of a collective effort by all relevant actors in society—investors, civil society, business, education, and government?
The SDGs are all interrelated and mutually reinforcing aspects of a system impacted by human presence. Paying attention to interconnections is essential. The global non-profit BSR recommends a set of steps to be taken towards a sustainability-driven business, such as prioritising SDGs that are most strategically aligned with business competencies; establishing KPIs, and, most importantly, joining partnerships.
Of the 24 indicators for Goal#17 Partnerships, capacity-building is the most exciting and most promising for business sustainability strategies. The private industry has a large role to play in. For example, circular economy models, that help decouple economic growth from resource constraints. There are significant new opportunities for companies, especially in emerging markets, for advancing healthcare technology, delivery, and access.
Taking the lead to organise partnerships across the globe translates into creating new jobs in sectors as different as affordable housing and energy efficiency. Consequently, facilitating the global transfer of practices, supporting local communities, national governments, and regional stability.
Speaking about sustainability
In any sustainable plan or strategy, communication plays a vital role. Both internally and externally – to inform, convince, motivate, and provide mutual understanding to different actors in the business environment. Sustainability-driven companies are the ones that create a platform for employees across departments to express themselves internally within their organisation.
Taking into account cultural variations in communication, sustainability-driven companies also invest in simple, direct, and precise communication outside the organization.
Empowering individuals for impact
To conclude, SDG implementation is a work in progress. There are many levels at which SDGs can be tackled. Individuals are still central to carrying out this enormous task because they form communities, both within and outside main business activities. Global success largely depends on individuals to drive community efforts.
Companies that invest in their employees by engaging them in the company vision through the practice of sustainability communication have so far been successful in linking their core business to the development goals.