Unexplored Business Opportunities in Sustainability

If 78% of consumers report they are more likely to buy from brands who are working toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) why are fewer than half of all global companies buying into and addressing the SDGs?

A Competitive Advantage

These statistics suggest that a considerable advantage over competitors can be gained by addressing the goals. In fact, industry leaders are proving that aligning the SDGs to a company’s core values can not only give your brand image an edge over competitors but that your products and services can fill a gap that is missing in the market.  Paul Pollman (Unilever CEO) states that the SDGs “offer the greatest economic opportunity of a lifetime.” Unilever’s sustainable living brands are growing 30% faster than the rest of the company. “They delivered nearly half our total growth in 2015, and are creating movements for change.”

Policy Changes

193 countries have committed to adopting the goals so it is reasonable to expect policy decisions and legislation to be tailored towards achieving them. Business may soon be legally required to work within the parameters of the SDGs.

Companies that take early steps to align their operations with the SDGs will find transitioning to new laws and policies easier to weather and will limit possible disruptions to their business activities.

Which of the SDGs should a company address?

With 17 goals and a total of 169 targets it can be hard to know where to start. A corporation is not expected to meet all 17 goals so it is beneficial to start by identifying and addressing the goals that either relate to business operations or that are more easily accomplished.

Businesses in developed regions tend to focus on climate action (SDG 13), which is not surprising considering the direct impact that changing weather patterns will have all along the supply chain. SDG 13 is also one of the goals that is of primary concern for most citizens. Meanwhile countries in Africa tend to focus on SDG 4 (quality education) which promises to boost hiring ability and productivity. These outcomes will then contribute to SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure).

Most corporations around the world will also address SDG 8, SDG 9 and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) as these are directly linked to a company’s operations and are often easier to quantify and achieve.

How to address the SDGs

Before developing a strategy, businesses should study the 17 goals and become familiar with which goals relate to the company’s operations and core values. The next step is to look at what SDGs have been prioritised at a local government level and then align activities to meet these goals. Aligning a firm’s priorities with the public sector locally will improve a company’s resilience and the outcomes of procedures put in place to achieve the goals.

Business should ensure the strategy includes methods to increase the brands competitive advantage. Goal #13 (Climate Action), is ranked as one of the most important goals for consumers, so address your customer requirements to gain your competitive edge. Alternatively address one of the least supported goals such as SDG #1 (no poverty), and SDG two (no hunger), giving you a further advantage over other companies who are already addressing other goals.

When developing your strategy it is recommended to set SMART goals, Specific, Measurable, Action orientated, Realistic and Time based. This helps demonstrate progress and success to stakeholders.

While it may be easier for larger companies to address multiple SDGs it doesn’t mean that smaller companies can’t.  The key to successfully achieving the goals is collaboration. Social enterprises such as Carbon Tanzania can address up to 12 of the 17 goals, helping businesses to achieve almost three quarters of the SDGs.

If the private sector can do so much to achieve the goals and make global business and consumption more sustainable, perhaps the question becomes: “Is business morally obligated to achieve the goals?”

Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, recently stated “We would be closer to the world we want if companies everywhere took baseline actions like respecting employee rights; not polluting land, sea and air, and punishing corruption.”

Contact us if you would like to investigate how a partnership with Carbon Tanzania can help your company address the Sustainable Development Goals.


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