Rebuilding trust between business and society

A sustainable future requires fundamental changes to the way companies operate. Yet, for responsible businesses, the SDGs also offer vast new opportunities

20th March 2017

Auckland, New Zealand. Anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement protesters outside the US Embassy. The free trade deal between 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region generated vocal opposition within the signatory countries. The agreement is now unlikely to be ratified since President Trump withdrew the US.
© Phil Walter/Getty Images

Rebuilding trust between business and society

A sustainable future requires fundamental changes to the way companies operate. Yet, for responsible businesses, the SDGs also offer vast new opportunities

By Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director, UN Global Compact

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is truly historic. It sets the long-term agenda for our world: end global poverty, protect our planet and build a life of dignity for all by 2030. The SDGs are the pillars of the 2030 Agenda.

Fulfilling these ambitions will take an unprecedented effort by all sectors in society – and business has to play an important role in the process. The SDGs open up enormous opportunity for business to be a force for good. The good news is that business is quickly tuning into the Agenda for Sustainable Development as the next frontier for responsible practices, building new markets and developing new solutions.

In short, the SDGs not only identify what we have to do before 2030 to create a sustainable world that leaves no one behind, they also outline new markets and opportunities for companies all over the world. To succeed, we must turn the Global Goals into business opportunities.

Why are companies connecting to the SDGs?
Businesses of all sizes in all regions of the world are responding to the vision of the SDGs. Companies report to us that the SDGs provide them with a new guiding star for a world in constant change, and that the 17 goals reflect the complex, interconnected operating environments that businesses face.

The timing could not be more urgent. The world is facing a complicated web of multidimensional interconnected systemic challenges, while protectionism and the gap between rich and poor continue to rise.

The past has clearly shown that reducing trade tariffs is crucial for advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights. From a business perspective, modern-day success is built on the pillars of global cooperation and interdependence. That is why globalisation must succeed, but to do so it must become a much more inclusive, human and respectful force.

By doing business right and taking steps to advance the SDGs, companies can help to ensure more inclusive growth and strengthen the social legitimacy of open markets. Through responsible 
and innovative leadership, we can help turn the threats of globalisation into opportunities, by giving a human face to the global markets. The good news is that there is an enormous appetite by business to better understand how to take responsible action, build partnerships and measure their contribution to the SDGs.

How can companies help advance the SDGs?
Doing business with integrity is at the heart of what it means to be part of a sustainable company. Responsibility is a clear expectation for any business wanting to engage on the SDGs and with the United Nations.

That is why the UN Global Compact first and foremost asks companies to do business right, by incorporating ‘Ten Principles’ on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption into strategies and operations. Smart companies have shown how principles provide the common ground for partners, a moral code for employees, an accountability measure and ultimately are the foundation for building trust across the board. Principles are simply good business.

Beyond responsibility, the SDGs also help to outline new markets and opportunities for companies all over the world. To meet the goals, we will need to invent, develop and launch countless new ideas and solutions within a very short time, each one a potential business opportunity.

Now is the time for companies to figure out how their operations, products and services can better support our planet and serve markets today and in the future. So many challenges – from climate, water and food crises, to poverty, conflict and inequality – are in need of the solutions that business can deliver.

Many – if not most – of the solutions and innovations are already out there. It is now a matter of having the determination and ingenuity to bring them to life.

The transformation ahead
One thing is clear: achieving the SDGs will require innovation and collaboration beyond our imagination. Incremental change will not be good enough. We will need disruptive, out-of-the-box thinking and advancements to solve the challenges at hand. In many ways we will need to reinvent what it means to be a leader and rethink how we value business and how we do business.

Transformation will require a critical mass of companies putting values and principles into the heart of their strategies and operations. It will require a new type of leadership where CEOs take the high road and the long-term view.

At the UN Global Compact we are doing our part to catalyse the transformation to sustainability. Our vision is to mobilise a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create the world we want. We are working to translate the SDGs into responsible and innovative business practices. And we are committed to shaping and accelerating actions and solutions that will have lasting impacts on our world.

There is no time to waste. We have reached a point in human history where our planet is in peril and our people are suffering. The moment is now. Working together, we can achieve the SDGs for all.