A New Year’s Resolution for the Private Sector: The Sustainable Development Goals

January 12, 2016
  • Sara Enright

    Former Director, BSR

January 1, 2016, marked one of the boldest New Year’s resolutions ever made: “to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet.” As of the beginning of this year, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replaced the Millennium Development Goals as the world’s shared development agenda, aligning the efforts of governments, in partnership with civil society, the private sector, and other stakeholders, to achieve 17 ambitious social and environmental global goals by 2030.

There is strong recognition that the SDGs will not be achieved through government initiatives alone: All stakeholders, and particularly the private sector, need to contribute their resources and creativity. 

Some companies are already responding to specific initiatives—for example, the more than 35 companies that made commitments at the launch of the SDGs in September 2015—and others foresee aligning with the SDGs when setting corporate performance targets in the coming years. But the big question for the majority of companies remains: Where do we begin?

Taking a cue from time-honored advice on achieving New Year’s resolutions, we have four observations on how you can take the leap when assessing your company’s contributions to the SDGs.

  • Target the goals that make sense for you: If you make too many resolutions, it is likely that you will not stick to any of them. There are 17 Global Goals and 159 targets, and your company won’t be able to cover them all. To get them started, BSR has been helping member companies map their current activities against the SDGs to understand where they are already aligned and where there are opportunities to go further.
  • Working toward a goal is more fun with friends: It’s easier to stick with a commitment when you’re part of a motivated group. Aligning your company’s sustainability efforts with the SDGs opens up partnership opportunities with organizations focused on the same issues. Goal 17 is all about partnerships for sustainable development, encouraging governments and stakeholders to pool their knowledge, expertise, technologies, and financial resources for greater impact than could be achieved alone.
  • Stay committed by making your goals public: You are far more likely to stick with a difficult resolution if you tell family and friends about your goal. Once your company has determined its action plan, there are a number of opportunities to make that commitment public. For instance, at the UN Sustainable Development Summit last September, GlaxoSmithKline pledged to work with partners to address health needs in the least developed countries and published a factsheet on the company’s commitment. This type of public pledge signals your company’s involvement and galvanizes the employees tasked with delivering on these pledges. 
  • It’s better do something than nothing: Just like going to the gym one time a week instead of three, even small contributions are a step in the right direction. It may be tempting to dismiss the SDGs for being too broad and ambitious to achieve, but doing nothing is the best way to ensure failure. As a first step, you might consider integrating the SDG targets into your company’s next materiality refresh, which will help identify the issues that are most material to your business. These are the areas in which your company is most likely to make its mark.

It’s time for companies to make their SDGs resolutions—and stick to them. As initiatives to advance the SDGs unfold, companies have the opportunity to determine where they can contribute, and even take the lead, on material issues that are critical to their business. The countdown to 2030 has begun.

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

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