‘Better business, better world’
To truly make the world a better place, businesses–not just governments– should make it a point to make sustainable development a key component of their respective strategic agendas, using as specific guidelines the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Such is the challenge of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission posed in its recently published report “Better Business, Better World.” The commission, chaired by former UN deputy secretary general Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, was formed in Davos in January last year with the goal of “mapping the economic prize that could be available to business if the UN Sustainable Development Goals are achieved, and describing how business can contribute to delivering these goals.”
Business leaders comprise the commission, including The Alibaba Group founder and executive chair Jack Ma, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, JP Morgan Chase & Co. Corporate and Investment Bank CEO Daniel Pinto, The World Business Council on Sustainable Development president Peter Bakker, and International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow.
The report emphasizes that “the current model for development is deeply flawed” despite the many social and technological advancements which occurred globally in the past 30 years (economic growth; reduction of poverty; the digital revolution).
“Signs of its failure and imperfections in today’s markets are everywhere. Natural disasters triggered by climate change have doubled in frequency since the 1980s,” the report reads. “We continue to invest in high-carbon infrastructure at a rate that could commit us to irreversible, immensely damaging climate change. Social inequality and youth unemployment is worsening in countries across the world, while on average women, are still paid 25 percent less than men for comparable work.”
To address this, the commission examined the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also called the Global Goals, and spent a year researching how achieving these goals will impact businesses.
The goals are as follows: No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-Being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life below Water; Life on Land; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; and Partnerships for the Goals.
The commission found that a huge “economic prize” of up to $12 trillion awaits those who could achieve these goals by 2030, in fast-growing market opportunities across four economic systems: food and agriculture; cities; energy and materials; and health and well-being.
On top of that, almost 400 million new jobs could be created in the four economic systems should businesses align their strategies with the Global Goals, the commission says.
“Our research… shows that business really needs the Global Goals: They offer a compelling growth strategy for individual businesses, for business generally and the world economy,” the Commission states in the report. “Second, the Global Goals really need business: Unless private companies seize the market opportunities they open up and advance progress on the whole Global Goals package, the abundance they offer won’t materialize.”
The Commission acknowledges that the Global Goals aren’t a magic potion that will immediately solve deep-rooted international issues.
“The world will still face many challenges in 2030. There will still be intense competition over resources; corruption won’t have disappeared; the environment will still face risks; and social justice will likely be a major issue worldwide,” the report reads. What the goals do offer, however, is a more “organized” way of addressing such issues.
Based on their research, the Commission has come up with six courses of action businesses should take in order to “lead the charge” in sustainable development:
– Build support for the right growth strategy.
– Incorporate the Global Goals into company strategy.
– Drive the transformation to sustainable markets with sector peers.
– Work with policy-makers to pay the true cost of natural and human resources.
– Push for a financial system oriented towards longer-term sustainable investment.
– Rebuild the “Social Contract” by paying taxes transparently and giving back to the respective communities where they operate.
“The more business leaders who take these actions, the faster the world economy will make the shift to an economic model where competition systemically drives sustainable, inclusive economic growth,” the report reads.
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