In September 2015, 193 world leaders signed up to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), to address what the world needs to do to tackle the global challenges we face. In total there are 17 goals outlined. At the heart of it, these goals aim to tackle poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The goals are interconnected where the success of one affects the success of others.
More and more companies are now incorporating these goals into their sustainability targets. However, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ SDG report, while 72% of companies surveyed mention the goals in their reporting, just 27% have included them in their business strategy. As for top-level leadership – just 19% of CEO or Chair statements mention the SDGs in the context of business strategy, performance or outlook. Based on their observations, the majority of the companies surveyed are keen to engage on SDGs, but lack the strategy, tools and culture needed to transform those commitments into actions.
Business associations such as the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development aim to provide this framework and structure. They also serve to bring together businesses to learn, inspire and tackle challenges faced. However, tackling sustainability goals is not something any single company can solve on their own. Rather it requires peers and stakeholders across the value chain to work together.
There are numerous collaborative efforts, such as the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition, where leading companies are pushing their supply chain network to provide better work conditions and career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment; the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network, tackling bribery and corruption to promote fair and open competition; the Responsible Minerals Initiative, addressing responsible mineral sourcing issues applicable to companies across various industry sectors that use or transact in raw materials; and, Sustainable Fashion, addressing a range of issues from sustainable sourcing to plastic pollution and labour rights.
We are also seeing fund managers initiating collaborative efforts, such as Stewart Investors. In 2018, the manager brought together some of the largest local and multi-national consumer goods companies in India to tackle plastic packaging waste. Together, the participants proposed to work with existing third-party collectors and recyclers to build scale and provide funds for equipment that would improve efficiency. In 2019, Stewart signed up to support CDP Forests initiative and to play their part by engaging with targeted companies who have an exposure and potential influence on deforestation.
The motivation driver for companies to take action is no longer just to appease shareholders, but also for financial interests. According to the United Nations, achieving the SDGs could open up US$12 trillion of market opportunities and create 380 million new jobs by 2030.