How Businesses Are Collaborating for the Sustainable Development Goals

United Nations, Deputy Secretary-General Visits SDG Media Zone, Flickr.

September 20, 2018
  • Peder Michael Pruzan-Jorgensen

    Former Senior Vice President, BSR

  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide both a stimulus and a framework for corporate sustainability efforts: This is reflected in the 2018 BSR/Globescan State of Sustainable Business Survey, where more than 70 percent of business leaders surveyed said that they are using the SDGs as their strategic north star in setting sustainability targets.

However, it has become increasingly obvious that to tackle systemic challenges like climate change, rising inequality, and exploitation of non-renewable resources, companies and other stakeholders need to work together. Businesses are increasingly creating and joining collaborative and multi-stakeholder initiatives to do this—which is aligned with SDG 17, to revitalize global partnership for sustainable development.

The trend toward private-sector led collaboration is encouraging—but it must accelerate, deepen, and broaden. For meaningful progress toward the SDGs, we need actors across entire value chains to pull together quickly and take collective action on the issues that threaten business growth and social development.

In our recent report on Private-Sector Collaboration for Sustainable Development, BSR investigated what motivates companies to join collaborations and what makes them successful. We found that collaborations are most effective at engaging and retaining corporate participants when they resolve an issue that is seen as critical to business continuity. In other words, we found that private-sector partnerships are most impactful when they are both good for society and good for business.

We also learned through the BSR/GlobeScan survey which specific SDGs companies are focusing on in their sustainability efforts. Climate action (SDG 13), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), and gender equality (SDG 5) topped the list.

Infographic: Companies are most focused on these UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Climate Action, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Gender Equality.

In anticipation of Global Goals Week next week, we are sharing five examples of how private-sector collaborative initiatives are contributing to three of these four most-referenced SDGs—while simultaneously helping their participants create more resilient businesses.

  1. HERproject (SDG 5) unites over 50 brands—along with their suppliers, local NGOs, and international partners—to empower women in global supply chains with knowledge and skills related to health, financial inclusion, and gender equality. Over the past decade, HERproject has reached more than 800,000 women in 14 countries, with outcomes including increased use of family planning products and better financial practices. These outcomes in turn ensure a more productive and resilient workforce, leading to positive business outcomes for factories and farms around the world.
  2. The Global Impact Sourcing Coalition (GISC) (SDG 8) is a collaboration between leading companies to build more inclusive global supply chains through advancing wide-scale adoption of Impact Sourcing—a business practice where a company prioritizes suppliers that intentionally hire and provide career development opportunities to people who otherwise have limited prospects for formal employment. In 2018, GISC launched an Impact Sourcing Challenge, calling on its members to hire 100,000 impact workers by the end of 2020. Thirteen companies have already taken up the challenge: These inclusive employers benefit from the skills and talents of a more diverse set of employees and from building stronger relationships with clients, employees, and the communities in which they operate.
  3. The Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) (SDG 8) is a global business network of over 100 companies working toward the vision of a maritime industry free of corruption. In 2014, MACN members used the anonymous MACN reporting system to highlight a systemic issue with demands for payment for unclean grain holds in some Argentine ports. This included cases of extortion, where officials would not provide clearance to ships in good condition without a “facilitation payment”. After building a coalition of local and global stakeholders, MACN pursued a collective action in Argentina, which resulted last year in the successful adoption of a new regulatory framework for dry bulk shipping. The new framework increases the integrity and transparency of dry-bulk vessel inspections to the benefit of frontline crew, shipping companies, and the Argentine economy.
  4. Clean Cargo (SDGs 8, 13) brings together major brands, cargo carriers, and freight forwarders to reduce the environmental impacts of global goods transportation and promote responsible shipping. The Clean Cargo Methodology for carbon dioxide emissions calculations and benchmarking has become the global standard in the ocean container shipping sector, collecting data from 85 percent of container shipping. The data show that since 2009, Clean Cargo members have cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent per TEU-km. Clean Cargo is stepping up its collective efforts to innovate and drive change, aligning with the new target of the International Maritime Organization to halve shipping emissions by 2050.
  5. The Future of Internet Power (SDG 13) aims to increase the use of renewable energy to power the internet through collaboration with companies, power providers, developers, utilities, and policymakers. The group currently focuses on data centers, which account for more than two percent of total energy use in the United States. Together, members developed and launched the Corporate Colocation and Cloud Buyers’ Principles, six criteria that customers expect their data center service providers to meet. The Principles’ 18 signatories also commit to prioritizing providers who meet their criteria, thereby incentivizing increased investment in renewable energy solutions.

As these examples demonstrate, when business leverages its collective reach, expertise, and power, it can have impact beyond what one company could accomplish alone. What’s more, working together toward the SDGs contributes to an environment in which business can continue to thrive.

For more information on BSR’s wide range of collaborative initiatives and how to get involved, please contact us.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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