In 2015, 193 countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aim? To achieve a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable society for all by 2030. Kevin Moss, Global Director of Sustainable Business at World Resources Institute (WRI), outlines how businesses that are making a head start in implementing the SDGs are carving out a distinct advantage.
What kind of impact have the SDGs had on the business community?
The SDGs accomplish two things: they align and interconnect social and environmental priorities such as poverty, inequality, and climate change; and they provide businesses with clear guidelines and targets for addressing them. This has been very valuable to the business community, who are now embracing the idea of “okay, now we know what we need to do.”
The goals have also created a common language for describing key challenges that need to be solved holistically. For forward-looking companies, they lay out a comprehensive road map for tackling global challenges and, in so doing, identify the biggest business opportunities ahead.
What competitive advantages are gained by companies who champion and integrate the SDGs?
Getting ahead of market opportunity is the biggest potential advantage. Better Business, Better World, by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, identifies $12 trillion worth of business opportunity in the SDGs, from large-scale technological reform in farming to electric vehicles and car sharing. The SDGs point towards key future markets, and delivering products and services that meet the needs of these markets will drive competitive advantage.
The level of international consensus for the SDGs is unprecedented – it’s been decades since so many countries have agreed so quickly to anything. Governments of the world are saying to the business community that “this is the future.” Businesses that aren’t aligned to this market opportunity , are investing in yesterday’s markets instead of tomorrow’s.
Can you tell us more about future markets and opportunities associated with the SDGs?
The opportunities range from agricultural efficiency, renewable energy and water solutions through education and health, and span both the developed world and emerging or low-income economies. The most exciting opportunities are at the intersection of social and environmental needs – bringing renewable energy to those experiencing energy poverty, improving nutrition for those struggling with hunger – because they create markets that improve lives while reducing impact on our severely stressed natural resources.
These intersections offer fantastic growth opportunities for companies that embrace them and the investors that support those companies. Markets will shrink for companies who utilize natural resources to provide products or services that are of limited societal value.
What challenges do companies face in implementing the SDGs?
The sheer scope of 17 SDGs and 169 tasks is hard to get one’s head around. The temptation is to believe that, by simply mapping what you are doing to contribute to the SDGs, you are doing better. But the reality is, mapping your activities is not the same as fundamentally changing your business model. Going beyond simple mapping, and addressing the true spirit of the SDGs – providing products and services that improve lives and, in parallel, reduce our impact on the planet – is the real goal.
How can companies better communicate the SDGs across different levels of their business?
There are two things businesses can do. First, emphasize that the SDGs are not only great for society and the planet, but they are a tremendous business opportunity.
Second, don’t focus too much on addressing the individual goals. Instead, connect all the SDGs together into a single narrative. The SDGs aim to raise the well-being of society, within the constraints of the planet’s resources. That’s what the SDGs are all about – how you are contributing towards the bigger global mission, rather than just thinking “have we reduced our water usage?”
What can you tell us about the Science Based Targets (SBT) Initiative?
Let me use climate as an example. SDG13, “Climate Action,” doesn’t specify the amount of carbon reduction. It points directly to the Paris Agreement, which says we must keep the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally aim for 1.5 degrees. This is a global-level goal, but is of limited value to a specific company. The SBT Initiative defines methodologies and pathways for individual sectors and businesses to achieve the global target of 2 degrees, or better. With SBTs, a business no longer has to guess how it can do its part to meet the global target – there is a defined methodology that sectors can follow.
The SBT initiative also provides businesses with a longer-term objective, and the ability to implement transformational solutions for reducing carbon emissions. By thinking “what do we need to do by 2030 or 2050,” businesses can break away from making incremental changes and put in place the right components of a long-term solution now.
What are you most optimistic about in terms of how businesses are responding to these initiatives?
At GLOBE Forum I moderated a panel with Gwen Migita, Chief Sustainability Officer and VP Social Impact at Caesar’s Entertainment; Neil Hawkins, Chief Sustainability Officer at Dow; and Brent Bergeron, EVP of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Goldcorp Inc. As early adopters of the SBT Initiative, they are all SDG-fluent and their companies are taking on leadership roles – from providing low-impact supply chain solutions, to educating their employees on environmental topics, to developing products that are aligned with the aims of the SDGs. We’re only at the beginning of this journey, and as the SDGs are increasingly adopted across government, society and the private sector, I’m becoming more and more confident that we are enabling upwards of 10 billion people to thrive together on our one and only planet.