Tuesday, 25 October 2016

17 Steps to Saving the World - Why Businesses Need the Sustainable Development Goals.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

In short, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 global goals that have been agreed by the 193 UN Member States which aim to drive change throughout the global society to end poverty, combat climate change and ensure that all people are treated equitably and are given the conditions to allow them to prosper.

The goals are very broad and cover everything from combatting climate change to eradicating poverty and, unlike the Millennium Development Goals that they replaced, the goals see business engagement as being essential to achieving the aims of the SDG’s by 2030.

The SDG’s aim to get governments, businesses, NGO’s, charities working together to make the right choices now in order to improve things for future generations.

So, why should businesses care?

First and foremost is the moral case. There is a projected global annual investment gap of $3 trillion dollars across all of the SDG's[1] as government funding is stretched to its limit by uncertain financial times. The SDG’s need businesses around the world to engage with the targets and to make sustainability a core part of their business, without this engagement we will not achieve any of the SDG goals by 2030.

Secondly there is a sound business case. Those businesses who engage with the SDG’s are much more likely to attract, engage with and keep talented employees, [2]  are more likely to be seen favourably by customer and hence maintain market position and will have a more resilient value chain that is not affected by challenges such as climate change, skills shortages, erratic energy supplies and fuel price fluctuation.

Equally those businesses that don’t engage may find themselves in either legal or regulatory hot water or with increasing costs as a result of fines and taxes[3] as governments change the regulatory and legal landscape to reflect their commitments. 

What should businesses be doing?

So maybe the above has convinced you that your business needs to do something, maybe you feel your organisation has a moral duty and the SDG's provide the perfect framework for that duty, maybe you see the risks inherent in doing nothing and this motivates you to act. Whatever the reason the first question you probably have is "where do I begin?". 

Fortunately, the answer to this is quite simple. The website of the SDG Compass[4] provides excellent guidance, tools and resources for businesses seeking to implement the SDG's within their organisation, but before you head straight there, there is one thing that we really need to consider and that is whether or not you should go it alone. 

It is all well and good for a multi-billion-pound turnover multinational company like Unilever to decide to make SDG's core to their business and to be able to have a huge and immediate impact, but for smaller organisations maybe we should consider that our resources may be a constraint on what we are able to do and the impact we are able to have. 

As small organisations, and even as individuals, climate change can feel like an overwhelmingly huge issue on which we can have limited or no impact. In the words of Sean Locke it's like turning up to the aftermath of an earthquake with a dustpan and brush. But the one thing that you must remember about things like climate change is that you don't have to go it alone and in fact if anything we are better to go it together. 

Research by Development Progress[5] has revealed that after a year of working on the SDG's, and despite good advances being made, if progress carried on at the current rate then we would achieve none of the SDG targets by 2030. It further concluded that 5 of the goals, including Combating Climate Change, are in need of an outright reversal in their trajectories if they are to reach their goals. 

A change in attitude is required, we can't just go it alone and expect to make fundamental changes to society, businesses need to work together. 

In an article[6] for Business Green Stephanie Draper of Forum for the Future believes that if we are going to make a fundamental difference and have an impact that is greater than the sum of our part then we can't consider our business in isolation and in fact must look at our interactions with the other parts of the wider system if that system is going to deliver changes greater than the sum of its parts. 

So if businesses truly want to make a difference towards the SDG's then they need to look at creative collaboration with other businesses and not just at the balance sheet, to paraphrase Elon Musk, when the ship is sinking we don't fight over the buckets! 

We at CFH have always had sustainability at the core of what we do, from our Toptree initiative, that has planted over one hundred thousand trees in the last 20 years, to Velopost, our fossil fuel free delivery service, and yet we recognise that we can do more and we can do better together than we can alone. 

That’s why we have started our Seeds of Change campaign. We are looking to work with other businesses, NGO's, not for profits, government bodies, basically whoever is interested, to create a movement towards sustainable businesses.  We want to share our experiences and the experiences of others to help everyone create a plan for going green and to avoid the pitfalls associated with that process and we don't want to stop there. With the SDG's at the heart of both our organisation and Seeds of Change we want to help motivate businesses to drive the UK towards achieving its SDG targets. 

Like the pebbles that start the avalanche, if businesses work together they can create a change much bigger than the sum of their parts. A change that works for business, work for society and works for everyone.

[Written by Joseph Broadway]