The business case for the Sustainable Development Goals – why should corporations care?

The business case for the Sustainable Development Goals – why should corporations care?

In 2015 countries around the world adopted a set of common goals to ‘end poverty, protect the planet and  ensure prosperity for all’.

These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form part of a 15 year agenda led by the United Nations to tackle some of the biggest global problems collectively across governments, the private sector, civil society and individual action.

As a global community we’re facing significant and serious challenges that will require extensive, collaborative work to find solutions that allow people, animals and the planet to survive and thrive.

The Sustainable Development Goals capture a clear snapshot of the issues we are facing and the aspirations we hold collectively for a future society.

Sustainable Development Goals

Many in the social enterprise sector already know that business can operate successfully with a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, and purpose driven businesses often use the SDGs as a framework to measure their impact.

With some of the world’s largest corporations employing more people than entire populations of some countries (Norway, New Zealand and Thailand have smaller GDPs than some major US firms), it’s only right that corporations should also play a role in helping work towards the SDGs.

But beyond a moral obligation, there is a powerful business case for engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals too.

The private sector has access to many of the resources needed to affect change across the goals – and it would be in their best interests to do so.

Many corporates have ambitions to go global, but to operate successfully they can only expand into stable economies. The global rise in poverty as well as significant climate and water risks are a significant threat to supply chains, global markets and expansion plans.

In fact, the 5 highest risks identified in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 all align with the SDGs:

A 2014 study by CDP reported that companies which actively manage and plan for climate change have an 18% higher return on investment than lower-scoring companies, indicating that a proactive approach to managing these risks pays off.

But beyond risk management the SDGs also provide significant opportunities for companies that embrace them.

According to the Business Commission, achieving the SDGs could create 380 million jobs and help unlock at least $12 trillion in opportunities for business by 2030.

Capitalism is evolving and consumers are demanding more from the products they buy.

A 2017 CSR study found that 91% of global consumers feel companies should act responsibly and put ethics over profit.

Consumers are trying to be responsible citizens of the world, and they expect the same from corporations, which is why we’re seeing rapid growth in the ethical and sustainable market.

Last year corporate giant Unilever reported that their Sustainable Living brands delivered over 60% of the company’s total growth in 2016 (up from 48% the year before) and grew more than 50% faster than the rest of the business.

Between 2010 and 2013, revenues from sustainable products also grew at six times the rate of overall company revenues for 12 major companies including Siemens, Toshiba, DuPont and Philips.

33% of consumers already purchase products with sustainability in mind, and a further 21% don’t currently but would like to – so it’s likely we’ll see this growth continue as the ethical market becomes even more mainstream.

81% of millennials believe that businesses have a key role to play in achieving the SDGs, so as global spending power shifts to this younger market, Corporate Social Responsibility is going to be more important than ever.

Companies who embrace the SDGs are going to have a major competitive advantage as this shift takes place.

However, consumer trust is at a record low. In recent years, headlines have been dominated with corporate scandals such as the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which sparked the global Fashion Revolution campaign, the ‘horse meat’ scandal which raised questions around food supply chain transparency and the Volkswagen emissions scandal which raised the profile of ‘corporate greenwashing’ and brands trying to appear more environmentally-friendly than they really are.

Corporate Social Responsibility can help a company demonstrate their commitment to the SDGs and restore consumer trust.

Consumers are not afraid to vote with their wallets. 90% are willing to boycott a company if they learned of irresponsible or deceptive business practices, so it’s unlikely that those without a strong commitment to CSR will survive in a growing responsible market.

The SDGs represent this shift stakeholder and consumer expectations.

As the 2030 deadline approaches to meet the 169 specific targets within the goals it’s likely that governments will introduce new policies to ensure progress. Companies that build the SDGs into the core of their corporate strategies now can get a head start and will have a major competitive advantage which they can use to attract new customers.

I’ve worked with clients across every Sustainable Development Goal to turn their ethics and impact into a competitive marketing strategy. If you’re working to create positive impact, I’d love to hear from you about how we may be able to work towards the SDGs and grow your brand together.

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