The theme of the 2017 High-level Political Forum on sustainable development will be “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”, which is also a central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the lead-up to the 2017 HLPF, weekly blogs by representatives of Member States, UN system, and major groups and other stakeholders will be featured in this series to present various perspectives on this theme. The role of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 14, and 17 will also be highlighted, as these goals will be in focus at the 2017 HLPF discussions.
Mark Malloch-Brown, Chair of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission
Eighteen months since their launch in New York, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are gaining momentum beyond the development world—into the board rooms and corner offices of CEOs of companies large and small. That is the good news. The challenge, however, is that business transformation and alignment with the SDGs must happen at a far greater speed and scale, if the Goals are to be achieved by 2030.
A recent survey underscores this point: According to Ethical Corporation’s State of Responsible Business 2016 report, which surveyed more than 2,000 sustainability professionals globally, fewer than half of global companies plan to engage with the SDGs. The lowest level of engagement is in the US where there has been a traditional corporate skepticism towards international initiatives of this kind.
The Business & Sustainable Development Commission, which I chair, shows, however, that companies that continue to cling to incremental change—or ignore the SDGs altogether—are missing an opportunity to open new market value worth trillions of dollars.
In January, the Commission launched its flagship report, Better Business, Better World, which makes the case for why the SDGs offer the private sector a compelling growth strategy that opens new market value and at the same time, helps solve significant social and environmental challenges. Our research reveals sustainable business models could unlock economic opportunities across 60 “hot spots” worth up to US$12 trillion, and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs, by 2030. In Africa alone, sustainable business models could unlock an economic prize of at least US$1.1 trillion and create over 85 million new jobs by 2030.
But business will not unlock these opportunities at the snail’s pace it is currently moving. The Commission argues that companies opting for incremental change will be left behind in what will be a “race to the top” among those that have gained a competitive advantage through innovation and increased investment to realise purpose-driven business models.
What is needed now is a radical change in CEO and board mindsets: They must realise that it will be sustainable business models—not CSR departments—that will unlock these significant financial opportunities. They must move from the mindset that perceives issues related to poverty and inequality as business burdens when in fact they can be, as the Commission report shows, boons to business.
But it is foolhardy to believe business can do it alone. Delivering the SDGs requires both a stronger private sector and a stronger public sector. The 37 members of the Business Commission, who represent the interests of business, investors, academia, workers and civil society, are unified in our shared belief that SDG achievement will depend on radical collaborations and partnerships—what we call, a new social contract. This new social contract is vital to creating an enabling environment that allows business to drive change at a faster pace, deliver market solutions, and ensure transparency and good governance.
Our colleagues at the UN Global Compact, led by Lise Kingo, also a member of the Commission, are delivering this message loud and clear to stakeholders in business, government and civil society. They understand that achievement of the SDGs is a challenge of collective action. They also believe that, while the Goals are universal, they must also involve local solutions and local ownership.
The new social contract will depend on public-private collaboration at a greater scale and scope to achieve the SDGs. The good news is that some companies already operate on these principles. But they remain the exception. Through a revitalized social contract, business can turbocharge development and help the world meet the Goals’ 2030 deadline—bringing to bear the innovation, capital and value-creation for which they are known.