How should business approach embedding the SDGs into their core business?

The SDGs provide a framework for a global society to coordinate on finding a path to improving the human and planetary condition. A key point of departure in the case of the SDGs is that this coordination is no longer the exclusive domain of the heads of state or international agencies or development organizations, as it has been in the past. The private sector in all its forms—big business, the garage entrepreneur, the young person on the street armed with a mobile phone, the investor—has a seat at the SDG table to join in the problem solving.

 

With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs are far from being manager-friendly; approaching the goals as a whole runs the risk of reducing the SDG agenda to an exercise. In order to make these goals more actionable, perhaps it is better to first view them as a logical system; for example, with some goals as endgames, others as essential building blocks, and yet others as enablers. Each company’s management must create its own pathway through the SDGs – where do you propose they begin?

 

1. Should a business start with the SDGs and look for opportunity, or start with existing business and sustainability strategies and build from there?

 

2. At a practical level, what do the SDGs add to existing business sustainability strategies?  What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?

 

3. What tools do businesses need to facilitate deeper engagement with the SDGs? How should business report its contributions to the SDGs to meet the expectations of government and civil society stakeholders?

 

This discussion is part of a Challenge on embedding the SDGs into business with the UK’s Department for International Development, Pearson, De Beers and Cemex. This online discussion will inform the development of a guide for business managers. It will also feed into the Fletcher School's Annual Inclusion Forum (Inclusive Inc) happening in Boston later on Wednesday.

 

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Novozymes is a really interesting company to look at because the potential of the SDGs to create new public-private partnerships is something that informed the development of their new corporate strategy in 2014, which is titled 'Partnering for Impact'. This corporate strategy is aligned with the SDGs and the company has targets to help create more of these kinds of partnerships.

Hui - has Citi chosen to focus on any specific SDGs, or are you looking at broader issues of financing the whole agenda?

Hui Wen Chan said:

Hi, I’m Hui Wen Chan, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at Citi.  Citi’s mission is to enable progress for our customers and communities by financing global growth and developing financial products and services that meet their needs.  Financing underpins all of the SDGs and Citi is committed to mobilizing capital for development.

What do the SDGs add?

1. They give us a framework to get a sense of the larger picture. How our individual points of intervention might contribute to the others and to end states for the people and planet by 2030. It places each private actor's intervention in perspective and helps determine the leverage points.

2. They give us an idea as to who else is investing - among possible partners or even competitors. 

3. They create a disciplinary mechanism - to allow private actors to commit and then be held accountable.

Will respond to the second part of the question separately.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thank - so let's move onto some practical issues.

Q2. At a practical level, what do the SDGs add to existing business sustainability strategies?  What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?

Hi Julie - are you able to share any more detail? Which SDGs have you decided to focus on?

Julie Wallace said:

At Standard Chartered, we took a combined approach. Our global footprint combined with our support to a number of industries from infrastructure to education puts us in a unique position where we can add value across a number of the SDGs. We reviewed our business strategy and priorities and then mapped these against the SDGs to see where we could add the most value based upon our expertise and areas of business focus.

Hello all, my name is Nadim and I am a student at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. I am working on a project on the role Human Centered Design in achieving the SDGs with a focus on SDG 11 and a case about Beirut.
An interesting take on the SDG's is the way we can categorize them in terms of scope. SDG 11 & 13 are the only ones with a spatial scope - On a city scale for SDG 11 and a global scale for SDG 13. Looking further into these SDGs we can see how their SDG targets are related to almost all other SDG's. To answer the second part of the question, the SDGs can help companies reorganize their efforts by providing a layered spatial and then thematic approach. It can also help them to align their efforts with the larger sustainability agenda of where they locally operate in order to drive real impact, while at the same time compare their sustainability efforts on a global scale with the common goals. I however completely agree about the risk mentioned by Prof. Chakravorti about the SDGs becoming a tool for marketing and I worry that might become the criteria for measuring performance!

Yes, we are also very interested in partnership points. It is great to see SDG 17 and more emphasis on partnerships and blended finance to address sustainable development challenges and opportunities.

 



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Hi Julie - are you able to share any more detail? Which SDGs have you decided to focus on?

Julie Wallace said:

At Standard Chartered, we took a combined approach. Our global footprint combined with our support to a number of industries from infrastructure to education puts us in a unique position where we can add value across a number of the SDGs. We reviewed our business strategy and priorities and then mapped these against the SDGs to see where we could add the most value based upon our expertise and areas of business focus.

Thanks for all the insights!  Let's move on to our final set of questions:

Q3. What tools do businesses need to facilitate deeper engagement with the SDGs? How should business report its contributions to the SDGs to meet the expectations of government and civil society stakeholders?

What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?

1. Continue what they have already been doing on sustainable development until they have a reason to revise their plans.

2. Consider the entire SDG laundry list and build a narrative that connects each SDG to others to help identify their leverage points and distinguish between "means" and "ends" - not all SDGs are the same. This means pick SDGs that: A) intersect with their value chains; B) have deep and wide impact on people, planet and policy end states; C) have a solid business case from the company's perspective. Then create plans to follow through, track the results and revise. Also, make your commitments public, so you can declare where you stand so others can calibrate - and you can be held accountable.


Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thank - so let's move onto some practical issues.

Q2. At a practical level, what do the SDGs add to existing business sustainability strategies?  What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?

Zahid, we aren't focusing on just one SDG. We've mapped the SDGs against our core business areas, and will be highlighting how our business activities and community programmes support several SDGs. We included several references to this in our 2015 Sustainability Summary - available here (see page 13) - https://www.sc.com/en/resources/global-en/pdf/annual_reports/annual...

Julie Wallace said:



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Hi Julie - are you able to share any more detail? Which SDGs have you decided to focus on?

Julie Wallace said:

At Standard Chartered, we took a combined approach. Our global footprint combined with our support to a number of industries from infrastructure to education puts us in a unique position where we can add value across a number of the SDGs. We reviewed our business strategy and priorities and then mapped these against the SDGs to see where we could add the most value based upon our expertise and areas of business focus.

Language is definitely an issue coming up in our work.  Successful narratives start with the business drivers and ground engagement with the SDGs firmly in the day to day core business.  Where we have seen internal push back is when companies focus their engagement with the goals around high profile initiatives which may be eye-catching for external audiences but do not relate to the day to day business of the company.  Also the need to avoid technical development language  is often called out.

I think Cemex is a good example to look at here. If you look at their most recent sustainability report, it contains within it a high-level summary of a mapping Cemex did of all it's existing activities and how they contribute to different SDGs. After doing this analysis, Cemex identified a number of new initiatives it would start in addition to what it was already doing.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Matthew - are you able to share any examples at the company level and/or industry level?

Matthew Gitsham said:

What I've seen companies doing so far in their engagement with the SDGs is to start by mapping the 17 SDGs and the 169 targets against their existing sustainability priorities and activity areas, to find out where they are already making their most significant contributions to the goals. They are then exploring whether there are major SDG areas where potentially their business could (but isn't yet) make a significant contribution through their core business and/or through a partnership with others.

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