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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to eliminate poverty and create a sustainable world. Governments have agreed to these goals, but businesses can take action too.

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Why do the SDGs matter to business?

Business-led solutions and technologies are crucial to action on poverty, health, education, climate change and environmental degradation.

Understanding SDGs:

What SDGs can do for businesses:

  1. define growing markets

  2. incentivize sustainable practices

  3. strengthen stakeholder relations

  4. stabilize markets and make financial systems transparent

  5. help communicate in language of SDG framework

What businesses should do for SDGs:

  1. Comply with relevant legislation

  2. Uphold internationally recognized minimum standards - defined in the UN Global Compact (see later).

  3. Respect universal human rights - address any harm to human rights the company may be involved in.

Defining Priorities

Not all 17 SDGs will be equally relevant to a company. Businesses should assess their positive and negative impacts on SDGS and then try to scale up the positive and eliminate the negative. Companies should consider the entire value chain, from supply to distribution when assessing impact. Possible positive impacts include paying a living wage to employees and developing energy efficient products. Possible ways to minimize negative impact include reducing water consumption in water-stressed regions or improving the recyclability of products. Tools for assessing impact and selecting indicators can be found at: www.sdgcompass.org.

Setting Goals

Based on the assessment, it’s important to set specific, measurable, and time-bound goals. A few key indicators should be chosen for each goal. An inventory of common indicators used by businesses can be found at: www.sdgcompass.org.

Goal baselines can be tied to a point in time or a period of time. For example, a company might have a goal to increase the board of directors to be 40% female by 2020. Companies should also decide whether a goal is absolute or relative. Absolute goals take only indicators into account. An example of an absolute goal is reducing the number of health incidents by 30% by 2025. Relative goals compare indicators to outputs. An example would be reducing the greenhouse gas emissions per unit sold by 25% by 2018. By making their goals public, companies can improve their reputations and motivate other companies. Companies can announce SDG-related goals on the website: www.business.un.org.

Becoming Sustainable

Company leadership can anchor SDGs within the organization by communicating the business case of the goals and integrating the goals into performance reviews and pay decisions. Companies can also enter into partnerships to address the SDGs.

Types of partnerships:

  • Value chain: companies combine complementary skills to bring new solutions to market

  • Sector initiatives: industry leaders come together to raise standards across the industry

  • Multi-stakeholder: government, private sector, and civil society organizations come together to tackle complex problems

Reporting & Communicating

Most of the world’s largest companies report their sustainability impact (93% of the largest 250 companies). The SDGs expect this level of reporting. The UN collects reported information and data on the indicators at: www.undatarevolution.org. It is important for companies to report using internationally recognized templates, which cane found at: www.sdgcompass.org. The SDGs provide a common language for reporting.

UN Global Compact

The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. Companies work together to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption and take action to fulfill the SDGs. To join this network, fill out the application at: https://www.unglobalcompact.org/participation/join/application.