Simply Sustainable

How to use the Sustainable Development Goals

This month, we were lucky enough to attend the UN Global Compact’s Sustainable Development Goals Roadshow in London. The event sought to explore how the Global Goals can be made relevant to local business, through a variety of ‘Top Down’ and ‘Bottom Up’ measures. It brought together various interesting speakers and panels on the topic and was hosted by Aviva in their Digital Garage – a fitting space for the disruptive conversations which the afternoon held.

It comes at a poignant time, with the UK’s progress towards the SDGs recently heralded as largely inadequate by the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development. Their new report, Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, found that of the 143 targets which are considered as relevant for the successful domestic delivery of the Goals, the UK is only performing well on 24% of its targets. A further 57% are performing inadequately, with 15% of targets having little or no policy in place to address them.

There is no doubt that more leadership is required from Government to advance progress, but business too must step up and play its part in driving a more equitable and sustainable future. The UN Global Compact shares this view and has embarked on a ‘road-show’ of UK cities to raise awareness and engagement with the Global Goals amongst businesses all over the country.

In keeping with the theme – Making Global Goals Local Business – the afternoon began with the global outlook, before looking at more local, practical applications for business. To set the ‘global’ scene, it was great to hear from Lord Bates about the UK’s plans to advance the Goals in the International Development sphere. He helped to highlight what a powerful global framework the Goals are in tackling the biggest challenges of our time – from poverty and mass migration to corruption.

Dr Paul Toyne introduced the excellent work being done by the London Sustainable Development Commission to align the Capital’s performance with the SDGs, and furthermore to raise awareness of the goals nationally. It was particularly interesting to hear about the application of Quality of Life indicators to measure sustainable development and the wellbeing of the capital, and how future work will align these indicators to the SDGs.

The majority of the afternoon was then spent exploring practical applications for business, with two animated panel discussions focusing on ‘Top Down’ and ‘Bottom Up’ approaches to meaningfully engage with the SDGs, and the sustainability agenda more broadly.

Key themes emerging included those of collaboration with competitors, employee participation and engagement, a move away from the ‘shareholder’ perspective, and an increasing necessity to provide jobs with real purpose. Millennials were recognised as particularly important to engage, as a matter of attracting future talent.

A highlight was hearing from John Elkington, who coined the term ‘Triple Bottom Line’ (TBL) 25 years ago, about why it is time to re-think the concept if we are to meet the Global Goals by 2030. The failure of the Triple Bottom Line to lead to transformational system change (as Elkington originally envisioned) has led to this recall, with the hope of prompting a new and truly transformational wave of TBL innovation and deployment.

What we heard here confirmed our experiences elsewhere, that companies are finding it challenging to engage with such a broad agenda, both from a ‘Top Down’ and ‘Bottom Up’ perspective. Nevertheless, the opportunities and benefits arising from successfully doing so were evident: increased employee engagement, enhanced reputation and brand value, competitive advantage and much more.

In recognition of these challenges, earlier this year we ran roundtables with senior CR and sustainability practitioners from a range of sectors where we discussed different approaches to engaging with the SDGs. Using insights from this and our client work, we produced a report highlighting various considerations for business in engaging with the SDGs and how they can be used more effectively to enhance strategy. This includes a four-step guide for any business engaging with the framework.

For more detail and to download the report (PDF) click here.

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