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Complexity in Sustainability – How & Why to ensure the sustainability of your business with the help of the SDGs

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Author: Corina Radu, Solutions4Impact (www.thesolution4impact.com)

Talking about sustainable development is actually talking business common sense. Acting responsibly at an individual level, driving a business that respects ethical principles and looking into the sustainable development goals is nothing really new. Going to a deeper meaning, it is what the world is trying to solve since decades, with so little or no success.

About Sustainable Development Goals

193 countries adopted the 17 SDGs in 2015, after in-depth consultations and feedback, opening the door for implementation of the 169 sub-goals in total. Agenda 2030 is the document stating that these goals and their sub-goals will take a strong role of helping businesses, as forerunners for implementation, to change the world by 2030 and give a better future for us, for our children and for their children.

However, it was not really talking about the SDGs until the last couple of years and many companies do face difficulties in talking about them in the present.

So, what’s holding companies back? Why is the sustainable goals implementation very slow or even delayed?

Why not all companies recognize the value of the SDGs

It is a mindset, the old mindset that says “take, make, use, dispose” and the lack of vision that is stopping many CEOs from seeing SDG’s real value. As usual, the company’s strategies are based on monetisation of resources and energy, revenues and profit, but not on the impact on people, environment and local communities. It is based on very simple calculations, that the prices must go up, the personnel costs must reduce, the business must intensify and that’s what’s going to make the company successful.

Unfortunately, this approach is not going to bring success very soon due to several reasons:

  • Consumers desire for transparency and social impact of businesses has become stronger than ever
  • Competitive advantage of companies that do change mindset and embed sustainability at their core rather than as an add-on attracts more customers
  • SDGs are an investment on long term and therefore their results will be visible in the long run, so it needs starting right now

Many CEOs are reporting that they are not pushing the implementation of the goals because, for example:

  • Not having the necessary clarity
  • Not feeling responsible for their overall implementation as a company
  • Fear of opening Pandora’s box when it comes to analysis, sourcing and brand image
  • Not enough budget and other resources for making the changes

How do impact businesses (social businesses) react to SDGs

Impact businesses have the biggest potential to contribute to SDGs by 2030 – 2050, however:

  • Research shows only 30% of impact businesses can measure and demonstrate their sustainability in the entire value chain
  • Biggest missing opportunities startups can have by not looking into SDGs from all angles that can offer potential opportunities and partnerships
  • Impact businesses can often miss out communicating their achievements or they do it in a rather limited way missing important stakeholders
  • A lot of competencies that can and must be developed for a sustainable growth culture are not yet in place and they are often overlooked

How can we as businesses, support the advancement of the SDGs?

It is very important to understand the truth about SDGs and what they really are:

  • A vision of the future, how the world should be in 2030 – 2050
  • No universal recipe fit for every business
  • Complexity of sustainable development treated on different levels
  • Goals that make sense because they are common sense
  • Starting point to get inspiration and develop specific indicators in line
  • One map to achieve sustainable development on what it matters and where it matters for every business in particular

What are the first actions for a business looking to advance the SDGs implementation?

First and foremost, SDGs need to be adapted for your specific business and your specific business needs, and do not let anyone telling you otherwise!

What does it mean? It means looking at the 17 SDGs and read through their goals and subsequent sub goals, and consulting with the most important stakeholders about what could those SDGs be, where your company can bring the biggest contribution in the future. Remember we are talking 2030, not today, not tomorrow, but the implementation must start now.

Source www.thesolution4impact , www.globalcompact

Once the review and the stakeholder consultation is finished and you have decided on where your company can bring the biggest impact, the next step is a SDGs prioritization. In practice, this means that every company will be evaluating those SDGs from two points of view, more precisely:

  1. How are the business operations affecting people and environment?
  2. What products and services you can produce in order to tackle already existing challenges?

The prioritization will represent the key point in selecting and adapting SDGs to your specific business profile, to your products and services and it will unlock new opportunities for partnership, cooperation, investment and financing.

Why is the implementation of the SDGs important?

Few key arguments to convince anyone working on them are:

  • Step up from old business model and dive into new opportunities worth 12 trillion US dollars (currently this is the financial estimation of implementing SDGs)
  • Make SDGs your battle ground – it provides a huge competitive advantage and attracts customers, banks, suppliers, community towards your business in a very positive way
  • Use circular models: reuse, repurpose and save resources
  • Grow your employee’s satisfaction into the first and the closest business stakeholders
  • Estimate your profit more reasonable taking impact estimations into account
  • Bring on your investors towards impact, what you are doing must be more than just a business
  • Shine your results with your customers, communicate what you are doing and win their loyalty
  • Support communities and this will open the door to public support and funding
  • Responsible with environment means responsible with yourself, it is a shared responsibility we all have to preserve what we have for the next generations especially when we are running on borrowed time and resources

How can businesses assess their SDG Impact?

According to Impact Management Project https://impactmanagementproject.com/ the best way to assess how businesses contribute to SDGs implementation is to consider three types of impacts that are recognized by stakeholder majority and investors in particular:

A good way to report on sustainability matters is and remains the sustainability report, more and more acknowledged for its importance in treating what is important, where is important for a business. Many companies make a great use of the sustainability reports to analyse and to communicate relevant results to their stakeholders.

More recently, as an example, a new idea developed to make sustainability reports available on a central online platform and organize a public ranking with stakeholder involvement. This makes these reports easier to compare and evaluate in the future, creates new transparency, facilitates joint learning, and provides important impulses for the necessary further development. At the same time, companies can implement the required stakeholder engagement via this platform with great benefits.

An example of such evaluation and example of sustainability reports from several big companies is available here:

https://www.social-responsibility.at/current-projects/csr-report-ranking/ 

https://www.social-responsibility.at/current-projects/csr-report-ranking/list-of-reports/ 

Source: FuturAbility Austria

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