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UN Sustainable Development Goals – A Business Challenge?

Published on
06 March 2018

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1 are a new set of sustainable development priorities for both small businesses and large multinationals that were adopted by 193 United Nations (UN) member states in September 2015. But, after almost two and a half years since then, are businesses adopting them?

GEM DBA graduate Dr. Maung Min, a former director of corporate sustainability for a big pharmaceutical company in the United States and now a full-time academic, is lukewarm about the chances of the adoption of sustainability practices. From his experience, there are global leaders, but laggards are in the majority, so Maung was interested in seeing if companies have embraced SDG goals or do not see them as significant at all.

Business Fights Poverty2 has provided some good examples of how small businesses are incorporating SDGs to their benefit.  In one case, to support basmati rice farmers in India and Pakistan, the Mars Food has committed to purchase 100% of its rice from sustainable sources. It has established goals that cover some of the SDGs (For example; Goal 1 [No Poverty] and Goal 2 [Zero Hunger], and by the end of 2025, a 50% increase in farmers’ net income from rice cultivation).

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) has compiled a resourceful guide for companies to navigate the SDGs, and the guide contains case studies on how companies from various industries have benefited from implementing them.3

For these programs to be successful, companies’ senior managements must take on an active leadership role.  The UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have developed strategic documents focusing on implementation because this effort is a major undertaking to change management.  The SDG Compass4 provides guidance for organizations to successfully implement this mission.

Yet, in the past two years (and counting) corporate commitment has been, at best, lukewarm. Why so? According to Nana Guar, senior consultant at Corporate Citizenship, “Two years on from the launch of the Goals, there are signs that corporate progress may be slowing. We’ve seen lots of welcoming announcements and reporting aligned to the SDGs. But the real challenge comes in application. The critical success factor is for businesses to now translate intent into action.”5