How should business approach embedding the SDGs into their core business?


(Business Fights Poverty) #1

Panelists

Bhaskar Chakravorti: Senior Associate Dean and Executive Director, The Institute for Business in the Global Context, The Fletcher School at Tufts University
Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi: Associate Director, The Institute for Business in the Global Context, The Fletcher School, Tufts University
Hui Wen Chan: Vice President, Corporate Sustainability, Citi
Richard Gilbert: Challenge Director, Business and the SDGs, Business Fights Poverty
Julie Wallace: Global Head, Community Engagement, Standard Chartered Bank
Matt Gitsham: Director, Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Hult International Business School

The SDGs provide a framework for a global society to coordinate on finding a path to improving the human and planetary condition. A key point of departure in the case of the SDGs is that this coordination is no longer the exclusive domain of the heads of state or international agencies or development organizations, as it has been in the past. The private sector in all its forms—big business, the garage entrepreneur, the young person on the street armed with a mobile phone, the investor—has a seat at the SDG table to join in the problem solving.

With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs are far from being manager-friendly; approaching the goals as a whole runs the risk of reducing the SDG agenda to an exercise. In order to make these goals more actionable, perhaps it is better to first view them as a logical system; for example, with some goals as endgames, others as essential building blocks, and yet others as enablers. Each company’s management must create its own pathway through the SDGs – where do you propose they begin?

1. Should a business start with the SDGs and look for opportunity, or start with existing business and sustainability strategies and build from there?

2. At a practical level, what do the SDGs add to existing business sustainability strategies? What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?

3. What tools do businesses need to facilitate deeper engagement with the SDGs? How should business report its contributions to the SDGs to meet the expectations of government and civil society stakeholders?

This discussion is part of a Challenge on embedding the SDGs into business with the UK’s Department for International Development, Pearson, De Beers and Cemex. This online discussion will inform the development of a guide for business managers. It will also feed into the Fletcher School's Annual Inclusion Forum (Inclusive Inc) happening in Boston later on Wednesday.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #2

Welcome to this written discussion on how businesses should approach embedding the SDGs into their core business. This discussion ties into a Challenge we are running, as well as the Inclusion Inc Unconference taking place today. We invite you all to post your questions and comments over the next hour, during the conference and over the coming days.

Let me start by asking all our panelists to introduce themselves.


(Richard Gilbert) #3

Hello - It's Richard Gilbert, Challenge Director at Business Fights Poverty. I am leading some our work on the SDGs.


(Julie Wallace) #4

Julie Wallace, Global Head, Community Engagement, Standard Chartered.


(Hui Wen Chan) #5

Hi, I’m Hui Wen Chan, Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at Citi. Citi’s mission is to enable progress for our customers and communities by financing global growth and developing financial products and services that meet their needs. Financing underpins all of the SDGs and Citi is committed to mobilizing capital for development.


(Matthew Gitsham) #6

Hi - Matt Gitsham, Director of the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Hult International Business School. We're partnering with Business Fights Poverty leading research on the challenge on embedding the SDGs into core business.


(Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi) #7

Greetings from The Fletcher School and welcome to this conversation, with Business Fights Poverty, on how businesses can approach SDGs. We look forward to a lively discussion -- Bhaskar Chakravorti and Ravi Chaturvedi


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #8

Thanks so much for making time to join us today!

Let's kick off with the first question:

Q1. Should a business start with the SDGs and look for opportunity, or start with existing business and sustainability strategies and build from there?


(Bhaskar Chakravorti) #9

Hello, this is Bhaskar Chakravorti, Senior Associate Dean at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. I head our Institute for Business in the Global Context, whose tagline is "connecting the world of business with the world"; I am also directing our research and convening initiative on how business innovators can help make advances on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We are launching a major research report today, "The Inclusive Innovators: 10 Questions, 20 Business Leaders, 17 Sustainable Development Goals" at an "unConference" this afternoon in Boston. Watch for the link to the report that we shall be releasing shortly. We look forward to a global community to collaborate on contributing and problem solving on this urgent and important set of issues. The US elections, the Brexit vote, among other developments of 2016, send a very clear signal: governments will be scaling back on their commitments to international cooperation, sustainable development and global inclusion. Other sectors will need to step up and fill the void. The role of business and social innovators is going to be even more important than we could have ever imagined. Look forward to your ideas. Best wishes, Bhaskar


(Hui Wen Chan) #10

The SDGs are broad enough that every company will be able to find ways their work supports the SDGs. To be most effective, companies should start by reflecting on their existing business and sustainability strategies, considering the areas where they can have the greatest impact, then looking at the SDGs for the strongest points of alignment as well as for new potential opportunities and ideas.


(Richard Gilbert) #11

In our experience of talking to companies about their approach to the SDGs at a global level, most use their strategic priorities and core business capabilities as a starting point and through a process of analysing and mapping the SDGs against existing sustainability strategies, they can then prioritise SDGs which are most material to the business and they have the greatest potential to impact. First and foremost, business investment, operations and value chains are the most powerful levers at a company’s disposal to drive priority SDGs.

When it comes to translating global priorities at the country level, businesses need to take a more nuanced approach and take into account local needs on the ground and government priorities.


(Julie Wallace) #12

At Standard Chartered, we took a combined approach. Our global footprint combined with our support to a number of industries from infrastructure to education puts us in a unique position where we can add value across a number of the SDGs. We reviewed our business strategy and priorities and then mapped these against the SDGs to see where we could add the most value based upon our expertise and areas of business focus.


(Matthew Gitsham) #13

What I've seen companies doing so far in their engagement with the SDGs is to start by mapping the 17 SDGs and the 169 targets against their existing sustainability priorities and activity areas, to find out where they are already making their most significant contributions to the goals. They are then exploring whether there are major SDG areas where potentially their business could (but isn't yet) make a significant contribution through their core business and/or through a partnership with others.


(Ravi Shankar Chaturvedi) #14

This doesn't need to be an either/ or approach. Ideally, businesses would do well to do both i.e., take an outside-in perspective on what opportunities exist within the SDGs and an inside-out perspective on identifying the low hanging fruit opportunities where they can create impact in the near term


(Richard Gilbert) #15

I think one of the interesting things about the SDGs is that their breadth and the more detailed targets that underpin them help companies to identify gaps in their current approaches and to develop a more comprehensive response. For example, SDG 5 on women empowerment is much more comprehensive than before, encompassing issues of unpaid role, access to education and violence. This in turn should encourage companies as a consequence to go deeper and think more broadly about their response.



(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #16

Thank - so let's move onto some practical issues.

Q2. At a practical level, what do the SDGs add to existing business sustainability strategies? What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?


(Bhaskar Chakravorti) #17

The purpose of business is to run their business. If over the course of formulating and executing their business strategy (that takes a sufficiently long view) business leaders identify how investments in sustainable development can be an effective lever for market growth and competitive advantage, this is where businesses should begin. That said, the SDGs play an essential role in reminding these strategists of the larger picture - and help them realize how their individual points of intervention can have wider effects, who their partners might be and if their competitors might also be making corresponding investments. My suggestion would be for the strategists to do BOTH: develop their own sustainable development investment pathway as guided by their own strategic calculus and study the SDG framework, identify their leverage points, publicly declare where they are willing to commit and create a platform for their partners to come on board using this framework. Such public declarations have other benefits: competitors have a better idea who within their industry is investing, so it helps mitigate against some concerns about free riding, partners and policymakers have a better idea about who within the private sector is participating and can help identify gaps and develop plans to close them and such public declarations, when accompanied by quantifiable and measurable targets can help keep the businesses accountable. One always has to worry about the SDGs becoming a tool for marketing departments and being reduced to SDG-washing operations.


(Richard Gilbert) #18

In our research to date with companies, we see three areas where the SDGs add to existing sustainability strategies and activities:

First is the opportunity to align company-specific sustainability targets with a globally recognised framework of goals and targets, which creates greater legitimacy for businesses and a common language with which to engage stakeholders and to build a shared understanding of priorities. Conversely with internal audiences it’s important to frame targets in ways that track closely to the way a business is run to give them “internal currency”.

Second is the opportunity to use the goals as a hook to stimulate greater engagement with sustainability within the business and the supply chain. Many companies we work with have used the goals as an opportunity to kick start new initiatives and re-energise existing programmes.

Third is the opportunity to communicate the company’s contribution and increase accountability against a set of globally recognised targets.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #19

Matthew - are you able to share any examples at the company level and/or industry level?

Matthew Gitsham said:

What I've seen companies doing so far in their engagement with the SDGs is to start by mapping the 17 SDGs and the 169 targets against their existing sustainability priorities and activity areas, to find out where they are already making their most significant contributions to the goals. They are then exploring whether there are major SDG areas where potentially their business could (but isn't yet) make a significant contribution through their core business and/or through a partnership with others.


(Hui Wen Chan) #20

Achieving the SDGs will require partnering across sectors. Companies should look to the SDGs to understand where the public sector will be investing and look for areas of alignment that present opportunities for collaboration to achieve better outcomes. For example, to address the challenges and risks of financing infrastructure in developing countries – a key part of SDG 9, Citi joined the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership, a new public-private sector partnership that aims to derisk investments in infrastructure to mobilize $100 billion in private financing over five years for infrastructure projects in developing countries using development assistance to reduce risk. This enables Citi and other commercial banks to raise private sector capital for infrastructure and at a much greater scale than the any of the individual partners would have been able to on their own.