Long-term business success matters and so do your workers, communities and the planet.
The world today is facing unprecedented, interconnected environmental challenges in areas including climate change, water, energy, biodiversity and agriculture. With business relying on natural resources directly and via supply chains, new corporate efforts are needed to address environmental responsibilities, value natural capital, and better understand the linkages between resources.
It is important to mention the growing linkages among various environmental issues – climate, food, water – as well as their connections to social and development priorities. All businesses must help to advance the Sustainable Development Goals including the Action Agenda of the Paris Climate Agreement stemming from COP21.
Companies must push to move beyond traditional approaches based largely on compliance and narrow risk assessments. Business have the duty to actively address environmental risks and opportunities and have major efforts underway with business in the areas of climate, water and food.
Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. The quality of a company’s relationships and engagement with its stakeholders is critical. Directly or indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, workers in the value chain, customers and local communities, and it is important to manage impacts proactively.
Businesses’ social license to operate depends greatly on their social sustainability efforts. In addition, a lack of social development, including poverty, inequality and weak rule of law, can hamper business operations and growth. At the same time, actions to achieve social sustainability may unlock new markets, help retain and attract business partners, or be the source for innovation for new product or service lines.
Internal morale and employee engagement may rise, while productivity, risk management and company-community conflict improve. The first six of the UN Global Compact’s principles focus on this social dimension of corporate sustainability, of which human rights is the cornerstone. Social sustainability also covers the human rights of specific groups: labour, women’s empowerment and gender equality, children, indigenous, handicapped persons, as well as people-centered approaches to business impacts on poverty. As well as covering groups of rights holders, social sustainability encompasses issues that are affecting them, for example, education and health.
Governance is the systems and processes that ensure the overall effectiveness of an entity – whether a business, government or multilateral institution. Promoting good governance is a multi-dimensional challenge, which requires efforts that are mutually reinforcing. For example, anti-corruption is essential to the rule of law and peace-building because corruption negatively impacts state capacity, social inclusion, and management of natural resources.
Peace is an enabler of sustainable development and is a pre-condition for the establishment of the rule of law and efforts to reduce corruption. Finally, rule of law is necessary to effectively address the drivers of violent conflict, illicit financial flows, and impunity, and to provide a legal framework which ensures impartiality and predictability.
At the micro level, companies can enhance good governance by integrating corporate sustainability principles into their own operations and relationships, allowing for greater transparency, accountability and inclusiveness. At the macro level, companies can contribute to the development and implementation of international norms and standards, for instance, as part of their commitment to the UN Global Compact.
The SDGs Explained for Business
In September 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted a plan for achieving a better future for all — laying out a path over the next 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. At the heart of “Agenda 2030” are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which clearly define the world we want — applying to all nations and leaving no one behind.
The new Global Goals result from a process that has been more inclusive than ever, with Governments involving business, civil society and citizens from the outset. We are all in agreement on where the world needs to go. Fulfilling these ambitions will take an unprecedented effort by all sectors in society — and business has to play a very important role in the process.
On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit — officially came into force. Over the next fifteen years, with these new goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Today’s business landscape is characterized by an unprecedented, accelerating and complex mix of risks and opportunities. Your entire market can be disrupted in a short time by innumerable factors, be it a new technology or a sudden lack of natural resources. New markets are emerging rapidly due to megatrends such as population growth, resource scarcity or global health risks. Meanwhile, consumers and investors are better informed than ever before – and they want businesses to take responsibility for the pressure our planet and its population are under.
There is growing understanding – especially by business leaders and investors ahead of the curve – that it is not enough for companies to concern themselves only with short-term profits because natural disasters, social unrest or economic disparity can damage long-term prosperity. The businesses that understand this challenge and take action will be a step ahead.
It is clear that the SDGs not only identify where we have to be in 2030 to create a sustainable world, they also outline new markets and opportunities for companies all over the world. To succeed, we must turn the global goals into local business.
International Institute for Climate Action
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