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Ten years to 2030 – will your organisation be ready? 

On 25 September 2015, a process led by the United Nations resulted in the 193 Member States adopting17 global Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). These...

Jonas Borglin, CEO, The New Division
|Jan 19|magazine20 min read

On 25 September 2015, a process led by the United Nations resulted in the 193 Member States adopting 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These seek to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

They include eradicating extreme poverty by ensuring everyone has more than $1.90 a day to live on, ending the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics, giving everyone access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene, and so on.

With just over ten years left until the UN’s 2030 deadline for organisations to meet the SDGs, a growing number of business leaders are looking more closely into them. The key questions to answer are firstly not why they should act now but rather how they can create impact in time. 

They are all discovering one key fact: there is no more time left to lose. 

 

A new rulebook for business

This is not some form of new green accreditation. It’s not a question of compliance and assessments resulting in a kitemark. The SDGs are bigger than that. They are the rules by which the world’s leaders have decided everything will be run. It is how to think about the environment, social sustainability, workers’ rights, how to run your business, and so on.

Perhaps the best way to view the SDGs and the targets are as an all-encompassing new rulebook for business. It is a huge transformation, and for many will involve a complete rethink of how they operate. The UN estimates that the cost of achieving the SDGs will be approximately US$3.3-4.5trn per year.

The cost of inaction could be far higher. Most obviously, business needs a stable, sustainable context in which to operate. The mounting climate crisis is already wreaking havoc on social systems around the world and having a material impact on the operational capacity of many businesses. 

Employees are also having very real discussions on sustainability with their children, families and friends. Companies need to address this and turn possible frustration into positive energy and action.

Those firms need to recognise the role they play in changing that narrative. At its most extreme this is an existential question – failing to recognise the importance of sustainability, and to act on it, is a matter of life or death. 

 

Growth and investment 

Yet, this is about opportunity more than cost. It is an opportunity to lead the way, to be at the forefront of innovation, to find the ways to feed a growing population, to clean up the oceans, to equalise pay across genders and to deliver clean drinking water and clean air for all, and so on and on.

A report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission revealed that sustainable business models related to the SDGs could open economic opportunities worth up to $12trn and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030.

This is more than mere theoretical projection. This is informing the investment decisions made day in, day out across the globe. According to the 2017 EY Investor Survey weak corporate governance, poor environmental performance, resource scarcity, climate change and human rights risks are most likely to alter investors’ decisions. 

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, it was clear that investors are looking to make investments in businesses that are reshaping themselves to meet the SDGs. The World Bank has committed $23.5bn through 115 projects to help developing countries find solutions to SDG-aligned challenges.

 

Opportunity to lead

What is more, there is significant opportunity to gain competitive advantage as the first mover in this field. The overwhelming majority of businesses are held back from taking action on the SDGs 

by the perception that sustainability is a compromise. Others have the will to act but baulk at the investment needed in new production methods. 

Indeed, no one should see this as a short-term fix. It is a long-term undertaking that will take deep pockets and steadfast resolve. It is little surprise then that the best examples tend to be start-ups. These are the privately-owned firms where the founder has had an epiphany – they want to make a better world for their children. Or they are the entrepreneurs spotting a market opportunity and acting swiftly to meet it.

In the corporate sphere, there are plenty of examples of companies pleading for 2030 action, and many who have plans in place, but there are precious few who can show numbers matching their ambitions. 

Some of the best examples are to be found in our local Nordic market. For example, Swedish steel giant SSAB, which today accounts for 10% of Sweden’s carbon emissions, has recently been at the UN detailing its plans for the delivery the first carbon neutral steel by 2025. Other stand-out performers include Swedish energy firm Vattenfall, and construction and development firm Skanska which has a long, proud record of awards for its commitment to greener buildings.

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Persuade, plan, measure

So, how to begin? Where to begin? In every case the first step needs to get the CEO on board. Without that leadership at the very highest level you will never be able to gain commitment for the sort of long-term investment required here. From there you also need to convince the Board of Directors. These are tough audiences, and much of our work with corporates involves helping CSOs find fresh, persuasive ways to make the case.

The persuasion does not end with the C-suite. If you can gain their backing, then you need to take the message out to the entire organisation. Show the benefit to them. Inspire them with the potential. Make them believe in the difference they can make.

From there it becomes more technical. The SDGs provide a framework for every organisation to identify their impacts and then map out actions. We worked with the UN to develop the SDGs into a more detailed and visual format, and a growing number of organisations are finding these to be an accessible and pragmatic guide to their greatest impacts.

As Corinne Woods, Director of Communications at the World Food Programme, put it: “The genius of the work that The New Division did was to create for the Sustainable Development Goals and the 169 targets a visual language which communicates with the greatest simplicity the plan for the planet.”

With impacts and actions set out, it is vital to measure progress towards your goals. PwC recently surveyed more than 700 companies across 21 countries and six sectors. It found that while 72% now mention the SDGs in their annual corporate or sustainability reports - a 10% annual increase -  

just 28% disclosed meaningful key performance indicators related to the SDGs, only 27% mentioned SDGs as part of their business strategy, and 19% of CEO or Chair statements in annual reports mentioned the Goals.

 

Take the lead

There is much to do. It can seem a daunting mountain to climb, but climb it we must over the next decade. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 highlighted important progress in many areas towards the achievement of the goals, but also in others it revealed a lack of progress, and in some even a regression.

There is much more still to be done, and each and every one of us, individual and organisation, has a responsibility and an incentive to act. As the UN’s website concludes, for the SDGs to be reached, "everyone needs to do their part: governments, the private sector, civil society and people like you".

It is the Decade of Action!

 

Jonas Borglin is CEO of The New Division