The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in September 2015 with an agenda to instigate global change and promote sustainable development. All 17 SDGs and 169 targets are quite ambitious aiming to broadly transform the world by eradicating poverty, protecting the environment, ensuring gender equality - and those are only three of the goals.
One year in, the SDGs featured prominently at this year’s CSR Asia Summit in Hong Kong. We held a panel discussion dedicated to exploring how organisations are operationalising these global commitments, and also had an interactive SDG ‘wall’ which highlighted best practices adopted throughout the private sector. The SDG wall provided an opportunity to visually showcase best company SDG commitments through notes, stuck to the wall.
On the panel, representatives from Huawei, H&M, Novozymes and Conservation International shared their experience of operationalising SDG opportunities and measuring progress. Each organisation on the panel discussed the importance of incorporating sustainability into their businesses and the importance of engaging with stakeholders and business partners. The panellists discussed how important it is to keep company products affordable for the public and maintain the same high quality when implementing sustainable alterations along the product supply chain. H&M also stated that it is important to choose an SDG that is most relevant to a company’s business objectives and mission. The consensus from the panellists when implementing SDG initiatives into a business model is to use the SDG agenda as a measurement of company progress. Some best practice examples from each organization include:
- H&M has created a global garment return program targeted at SDG12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
- Huawei has produced a thought leadership paper demonstrating how the technology sector can take part in achieving several SDGs, specifically SDG4 - Education.
- Novozymes has been researching innovative ways to replace everyday chemicals with enzymes achieving SDG15 - Life On Land
- Conservation International has collaborated with well-known celebrities to produce the “Nature Is Speaking” short video campaign that achieves SDG13 - Climate Action.
These four SDG initiatives show how each organization is promoting global change via their operational practices and CSR strategies. They recognize that the success of any initiative depends on gaining full support from the company and employees and by being tailored to match a company’s specific mission and vision. With assurance from CEO’s and corporate managers, each initiative is poised to instil change while promoting economic progress for the company.
On the SDG wall, delegates posted a range of initiatives including:
- A parasite free program in Myanmar led by PTTEP (a petroleum exploration and production company) as well as a free health care clinic in Indonesia which aims at achieving SDG3 - Good Health and Well-being
- GAMMON creating ‘green’ concrete used in construction which targets SDG12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
- Hilton promising to incorporate sustainable seafood into their business by 2022 reaching SDG14 - Life Below Water.
It was encouraging to see nearly all of the SDGs represented. SDG related discussions were heard throughout the Summit, and delegates were encouraged to continually exhibit company initiatives addressing SDGs. In addition to the CSR Asia Summit, leading companies in Hong Kong engaged in an open SDG panel in November, where they discussed the importance for businesses to incorporate the SDGs into their company strategies. Swire, MTR and CLP all stated that the SDGs are a high priority among the company’s C-suite and have been brought up in several discussions with shareholders. It is encouraging to see prominent companies advocating for more SDG involvement throughout core business models. These discussions demonstrate that businesses from different sectors can meaningfully contribute to the SDGs by utilizing their unique resource pools, creativity and business expertise.
The inclusion of the private sector was strategically written into the SDGs because it is time for the private sector to take a leading role, to create meaningful commitments, and to initiate global change. Fortunately, businesses are responding to this call to action. In CSR Asia’s annual research report “Who Is Getting It Done,” we asked 350 professionals to provide key information on what SDGs do companies plan to focus on and reasons why companies would not engage the SDGs. The top five SDGs that organizations plan to work towards are:
- SDG3 - Good Health and Well-being
- SDG4 - Quality Education
- SDG6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
- SDG8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
- SDG17 - Partnerships for the Goals
Top reasons for not engaging SDGs were lack of funding, companies are unsure of how to begin engaging with the SDGs properly, and waiting for parent company direction. CSR Asia sees a growing focus for sustainability within the private sector, and it is clear that early starters engaging with the SDGs are already seeing the benefits; but there is still room for further engagement and discussion. What we would advise companies to do looking forward is to address the key issues of lack of funding, scalability of a project, and to start implementing projects as soon as possible.
Involvement in the SDGs can create significant progress towards global challenges; it can create new opportunities for peer and cross industry collaboration, increase profit, build new markets and most importantly address global issues that affect everyone. Incorporating the SDGs into business models will require revamping current ‘business as usual’ approaches and moving towards more innovative, sustainable and inclusive business strategies. With the private sector taking a leading role and by integrating the SDGs into their business models, these goals may actually be achievable by 2030.