The United Nations Global Compact is a global platform for business and non-business entities to proactively network and engage in areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption. Their Global Compact Local Networks advance the initiative and its Ten Principles at the country level, while helping companies understand what responsible business means.
Jessica Lobo leads a growing team and a programme of activity to engage business, government, and stakeholders across the UK on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As the Global Goals and Climate Programme Manager, Jessica focuses on advocating the Goals, cultivating working groups with members of the Network, and hosting forums, webinars, and workshops to enable practical action, share knowledge across sectors, and inspire business ambition to deliver climate action and the SDGs.
Exclusively for Community Index Magazine, Jessica explained why sustainable innovation matters: it promotes regenerative leadership through inspiring business ambition.
The interview was published in November 2022, in the bilingual yearbook Community Index Magazine no. 4. The publication can be accessed here: https://communityindex.ro/flip-book-2022/
1. The UN Global Compact provides a universal language and a sustainability strategy framework to guide businesses. Can you offer our readers a clear image on where are we in terms of progress on an international level?
Since the inception of the UN Global Compact, we’ve seen an exponential rise in the importance and uptake of corporate sustainability. More than 16,000 companies are now committed to align their operations and strategies with our Ten Principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption.
In the UN Global Compact CEO Survey 2021 we found that 72% of companies offer a living wage to their employees and more than four in five businesses have introduced practices to eliminate systemic racism across their operations. Companies are taking action to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, with 82% of companies incorporating gender equality into their company corporate sustainability strategies, and more than half of respondents have set a target for 31-50% women’s representation at the Board of Directors level within the next four years. Globally, more than 3,000 businesses and financial institutions are working with the Science Based Targets initiative to reduce their carbon emissions in line with climate science.
The private sector is proving that business can be a powerful force for good. Yet unfortunately, the world is not on track to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and the events over the past two years have highlighted that now, more than ever, we need to scale-up action to fight inequalities, tackle climate change, protect our planet, and ensure no-one is left behind.
Our role at the UN Global Compact Network UK is to support organisations in the UK to be more strategic and transformational in how they run their business to deliver on the SDGs. We’re now working with companies to help them set bolder goals and align their corporate sustainability targets with the ambitions of the SDGs to build resilience, enable long-term growth, and accelerate progress that’s good for business and good for the world.
2. Through its Ten Principles, the UN Global Compact asks companies to first do business responsibly and then pursue opportunities to solve global challenges. In other words, in order to advance the SDG agenda, each organization’s job starts from the inside. In what way does this set of Principles help companies establish a culture of integrity and set the stage for long-term success?
The Ten Principles sit at the heart of the UN Global Compact. Derived from UN treaties, ratified by almost every country around the world, the Ten Principles are a truly universal and fundamental set of values that every participating company commits to embedding into their operations and strategies. This framework ensures that businesses not only uphold their basic responsibilities to people and planet, but are also equipped with the necessary integrity and compliance practices to ensure that any activities which advance the SDGs aren’t undermined by a neglect of their core responsibilities.
Sustainability begins with a company’s values and culture, and we believe that if every company everywhere fully integrated the Ten Principles, we would be well on our way to achieving the SDGs by 2030.
3. Each year, the UN Global Compact celebrates a group of SDG Pioneers: business leaders who are doing an exceptional job to advance the Global Goals. What sets apart these professionals from other leaders in sustainability? What do they do differently?
Our SDG Pioneers are instrumental in integrating the Ten Principles into their business strategies and functions, as well as identifying new ways to drive sustainability. Many of our SDG Pioneers are recognized for their work in leading the development of innovative products, services, and/or business models that advance the SDGs. This year, our global cohort are working on areas that span from climate adaptation and mitigation to sustainable finance, digital innovation, circular economy and supply chains, decent work, and water stewardship.
Our SDG Pioneers lead exceptional examples of what can be done by business to make a difference to the sustainable development agenda, and importantly they are engaging, mobilizing, inspiring, and rallying colleagues and external stakeholders to support the SDGs.
4. The Responsible Business & SDGs Summit was an interactive digital event that gathered 2000+ CEOs, business experts, sustainability practitioners, investors and representatives from the civil society in a series of critical discussions on the SDGs progress. Can you share the main take-away actionable ideas of the event that would help companies, industries and societies lead the path towards a new sustainable future?
Across the two-day event, our Responsible Business & SDGs Summit explored themes from sustainable finance and reporting, to local action and partnerships. The main take-away from the Summit was the importance of collaborating with colleagues, suppliers, and stakeholders to bring the SDGs to life and embed them into business targets, objectives, and organisational culture.
Our guest speakers highlighted the rise in investor interest in ESG and a dominant theme throughout the Summit was that businesses need to adopt a holistic and joined-up approach to effectively address these sustainability components. Many companies face challenges with measuring impact, but we spoke about the ways that businesses can integrate the SDGs into their corporate sustainability reports to not only present a transparent and balanced view of their activities, but also to demonstrate the ways they are advancing this global agenda.
An important step going forward will be redirecting private capital to create a market for mainstream investment for the SDGs. We are seeing a growing recognition that long term shareholder returns can be maximized by creating value for all stakeholders, and businesses which embrace this new type of leadership and recognize the influence and power of the private sector to help shape sustainable behaviours, working environments, and supply chains will be the businesses of tomorrow.
5. The role of local partnerships and action has never been more important in times when the world is trying to build back better from the pandemic. How can companies efficiently localize the Global Goals in order to reshape the economy, tackle climate change, and address the extreme inequalities that this crisis has brought?
The UN Global Compact Network UK’s SDG Advocacy Working Group has been exploring the role of local partnerships and action over the last year. The “global” issues framed within the SDGs are now becoming very local and very relevant to companies. We found that in order to level up and build back better from the pandemic, all stakeholders – including companies, civil society organisations, governments, and individuals – need to recognize the importance of having a joined-up approach to sustainable development, establishing partnerships and effective forums for collaboration, and building mechanisms to measure progress and look ahead at long-term impact.
The SDGs are a valuable shared language that any stakeholder can use to speak to another and the holistic framework protects companies from simplistic, single-issue, activism which has often been a barrier to advancing this agenda.
Using the Global Goals to design corporate responsibility strategies, identify partnership opportunities, and attract investment for projects can help business to accelerate the action that the world urgently needs.