On 25 September 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 aspirational targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted by leaders of 193 countries at an historic UN Summit. They are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are:
For a detailed explanation of each of the SDGs see http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/corporate/brochure/SDGs_Booklet_Web_En.pdf.
The world is changing due to increase in population, climate change, military conflicts, water crises and social instability, to name a few. Supply chains are global, with goods being transported as components or final products worldwide. This creates risk, but also opportunities. It is essential that business identifies their risks and plans to mitigate and manage them, and also identifies the opportunities that globalisation provides.
A World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2016 resulted in the risks in the table below to be of high concern in the next 10 years, showing how the SDGs align with the top 5 global medium-term risks and the percentages of survey participants expressing their concern.
While not legally binding, the SDGs reflect shifting stakeholder expectations. Shareholders, bankers, insurance companies, regulators, employees and even NGOs increasingly require evidence that a company is embracing sustainable development. Directors are tasked with the need to show that they are addressing risks and opportunities, that they are investigating the risks in the table above, among many others. Climate change may be a major risk (or an opportunity) to an agricultural company or one with coastal facilities, while it may also present opportunities for another company to develop mitigation strategies and services.
Directors are being challenged at annual meetings, for example, to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development in order to protect the company’s assets and interests. Many companies have been incorporating it into their strategies for years but may not be conscious of the positive impacts or articulating them effectively. Adoption of relevant SDGs can be an important step in meeting these challenges.
The SDGs are not just for governments, and governments have involved business from the outset. The aim is to shift corporate mindsets and models everywhere in order to achieve the SDGs. Without business involvement, the SDGs will not be achievable. However, not every one of the SDGs will apply to every business, and it is necessary for businesses to identify those that they can contribute to or can achieve.
Why should your business bother to contribute to the SDGs? The benefits can be tangible, and while it may seem that the SDGs apply only to multinational companies or those working internationally, that is not the case. Some of the benefits that your Australian or overseas business may experience include:
Some companies have already established, in addition to the traditional economic indicators, clear goals related to environmental sustainability and employee working conditions. Many companies are already embracing standardised reporting guidelines such as the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (see https://www.globalreporting.org/information/g4/Pages/default.aspx – to be superseded by the GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards on July 1 2018). Many others are adopting international standards such as ISO 14001 for environmental management; or ISO 45001 for health and safety management; ISO 26000, which provides guidelines for social responsibility; ISO 50001 for energy management; and ISO 31000 for risk management. However, identifying the right metric remains a key challenge for business.
Sustainability, referencing the three components of economic, social and environmental outcomes, is the key focus that enables companies to connect with the SDGs. Most companies understand that sustainability is essential for their long term success, the maintenance of their supply chains and to succeed in new markets. The process of sustainability enables companies to make a significant contribution to the SDGs, often through their existing operations. This is happening not only among large multinationals but also with many SMEs.
Companies may choose to start their SDG initiatives by doing an internal assessment in order to identify those areas where they have greater capabilities and identify their main challenges. In this assessment process they will aim to identify which SDGs they can impact through their core businesses. A “gap analysis” against the SDGs may be a valid starting point, addressing their existing sustainability initiatives.
For Australian companies working internationally, the challenge of dealing with certain cultural values when implementing the SDG Agenda can be confronting. For example, those related to gender equality and some cultural and religious views, such as the prohibition of women to engage in paid employment, own land, speak in public or achieve leadership positions, constitute major challenges. Government red tape and corruption are additional factors that can not only slow down the implementation of sustainability programs, but be contrary to the SDG principles. Local customs that have operated for perhaps centuries, may be in conflict with the modern international standards expressed in the SDGs, and may be regarded as corruption under the SDGs or Australian laws. Handling such issues can present major challenges for Australian businesses (and government trading agencies) that want to work in those countries, and can expose Directors and management to possible prosecution. Assessing the company’s activities against the SDGs can be a major contributor to due diligence.
At Graham A Brown & Associates we have the qualified and experienced staff to assist you with your SDG program. We have worked for many industries in Australia and internationally over several decades, and have personal experience in the requirements of the Sustainable Development Goals. Ways in which we can help include: