Used strategically, SDGs can generate opportunities: expert

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) don’t conflict with company goals but can in fact provide significant business opportunities and create profit for organizations, says an international expert.

According to Gry Saul, senior advisor on corporate social responsibility and responsible business conduct with the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), SDGs are good for business because they encourage companies to develop new solutions, business models and technologies for solving today’s most pressing challenges while still allowing profit and strengthening competitiveness.

It is estimated that delivering the SDGs could generate business opportunities valued at US$12 trillion annually from 2030 in sectors such as agriculture, food, energy, housing and health, added Saul, who made her presentation at a recent e-forum organized by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines.

An organization’s purpose and profit can go hand in hand, and SDGs are guide posts for where efforts can be focused, Saul continued.

“We believe that Global Goals provide significant business opportunities if you are able to use it strategically,” not as a peripheral activity but part of the core of the business, helping to generate profit and growth, she said.

SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030, all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The 17 SDGs are integrated—they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Saul said that for companies to profit from SDGs, they have to be prepared to change busines models from traditional to environment-friendly, for example, and learn from the best business practices of others, such as by sharing knowledge among members of their trade association.

Firms also have to lead from the top and integrate efforts directly into their businesses, and measure and track sustainability performance as documentation and communication are important to overcome trust issues.

Moreover, enterprises have to understand how their customers view sustainability and what clients would be willing to pay extra for now or in the future, said Saul.

She also acknowledged that some customers may be reluctant to pay more to aid in the company’s pursuit of SDGs, but warned that if the company is not willing to make this change, “it will mean that customers in the end will simply not choose you.”

This, she said, is because suppliers are expected to keep improving their way of doing business, such as by reducing their CO2 emissions, making sure employees are treated with respect, and observing gender equality in the workplace, for example.

Also necessary for firms to benefit from SDGs is to foster collaboration with people and groups outside of their organizations, such as with NGOs, the academe, and government.

To use SDGs in achieving business results, Saul said enterprises can follow a five-step program developed by DI that aims to integrate these goals into the core of the business.

The first step is to develop a new vision achieved through changing the mindset and securing management’s commitment. Second, focus on specific SDGs so as not to be overwhelmed and link these to business results and develop the relevant systems, programs and actions. Third is to engage the whole commercial organization, including customers and stakeholders, in the program.

Next is to test specific initiatives and communicate outcomes externally. Finally, the undertaking should be scaled up, which involves measuring the impacts, reinforcing through incentives and accountability, continuously improving, and scaling up the proven initiatives.

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