In September 2015 the UN released its seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs). The aim has been to encourage the business community to align their corporate strategies to better serve a number of social, environmental and economic issues facing the world in the 21st century. The SDGs are also aimed at governments, the public sector and society at large and seek to put ethical and pressing issues at the heart of policy, process and decision making.
In this article, I want to explore how businesses of all types and sizes can have a positive impact on the UN’s SDGs and help to communicate this clearly and effectively.
What are the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?
The 17 SDGs range across a number of areas and are as follows:
Although many of the SDGs won’t apply to every business, the SDGs will function as a set of guiding principles for any business wishing to drive their CSR policy forwards by contributing more to a sustainable society.
Let’s look at some the methodology behind the alignment of SDGs and your CSR policy.
Sustainable Development Goals and Storytelling
As I’ve discussed on this blog before, a developed CSR policy will carry numerous commercial benefits, as well as help you align your business with global efforts to make the business community more sustainable and ethically driven. There are less quantifiable benefits that this kind of social engagement and CSR-driven corporate strategy will present over the long term and much of this comes from the huge storytelling potential.
In an article for Forbes, CEO of brand consultancy We First, Simon Mainwaring, explains how this realignment to the UN’s SDGs can come to define the company by clearly defining a strong moral compass.
“The simple act of making an intention to change, and then shifting your company’s behaviour to reflect that stated change, can unlock massive storytelling potential for your brand as it helps create the future it wants to own…Today’s consumers are more eager than ever to embrace brands they see doing good out in the world but are just as quick to mobilise against those that aren’t. It may seem obvious, but if you’re going to talk the talk, it’s essential you walk the walk.”
SDG alignment can, therefore, be seen as a humanisation of company values to sit alongside those of its core consumer base and a growing percentage of the public at large. Mainwaring is quick to warn how this policy needs to be genuine of course.
CSR and SDG Alignment
Aligning CSR policy to the UN’s sustainable development goals is a huge change project and needs input across the organisation and buy-in at the executive level. In much the way that developing your early CSR policy does, this requires a staged and considered process. This can be divided into four core challenges:
- Determine your impact: There are 17 SDGs and it’s likely your business will have very little impact on the majority of them directly. Establishing impact, whether negative or positive on the SDGs means understanding any indirect influence your business has through its activities or those of its suppliers.
- Establish a method of measurement: Agreeing impact is one thing but establishing a means of measuring the level of your impact on any given SDG is another challenge entirely. We have talked on this blog at length of the importance of non-financial data and using the right sustainability software to measure this but some SDG impact may be harder to quantify than others.
- Learn as you go: Incorporating the results of your measurements and analysis is an ongoing learning process that will see you constantly adjusting and tweaking the way you do things. The more you can understand how your impact can be reduced the better you can communicate this to your stakeholders, shareholders and customers.
- Tell your story: As I’ve already mentioned, storytelling is part of this process and all your efforts need to be boiled down to the fundamentals and communicated effectively. Don’t get lost in sustainability data but try to tell human stories that relate directly to your positive impact on the UN’s sustainable development goals.
One of the most common problems is how many companies don’t realise how they are indirectly having a negative impact on the UN’s SDGs. Conversely though, many companies could be contributing to the SDGs in a positive way without realising it and be missing the opportunity to talk about this.
There are huge opportunities for businesses of all types to improve their practices and have a positive impact on the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals and not just those working in the manufacturing sector, where the environmental and social impact is often be more obvious.
The UTZ promotes sustainable farming and has some great examples of all those involved in the food supply chain – from brands to farmers, can do to contribute towards the UN’s SDGs.
If you have any examples of how your business is actively working towards the UN’s sustainable development goals, we’d love to hear about it.