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


(Richard Gilbert) #21

Through our work with companies to date, we are seeing more progress on the SDGs being made when companies use existing management systems, processes and programmes for embedding the goals into the business, which do not add additional cost and complexity. For example, using existing supply chain assurance mechanisms / processes as a mechanism to engage supply chain partners with the goals.


(Matthew Gitsham) #22

From the conversations we've been having with companies already engaging with the SDGs, I've heard several ways in which the SDGs are already having a practical impact. For organisations reviewing their sustainability strategies, the SDGs are being used as a reference point - if a company is making a decision between which initiatives to prioritise, it is choosing those that align most closely with the SDGs (as well as their own core business), because of the legitimacy of the process that went in to deciding on these global priorities.

Second, for individuals trying to get increased backing and buy-in internally for particular initiatives from colleagues internally across their businesses and value chains, if the initiative aligns with the SDGs, this is giving them extra confidence to really push what they're trying to do, and also helps a little with getting traction from colleagues. Also, I've heard some people talking about being able to access increased resources internally for existing initiatives, if the company is now making public statements about these initiatives being a contribution to the SDGs.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #23

Bhaskar - that's a powerful point. I think stage 1 might be mapping the SDGs against what the business might already been doing / their existing sustainability priorities. But stage 2, and potentially more exciting, is how business uses the framework to guide what they might do differently / additionally. While I would always argue for an emphasis on core business, the SDGs offer a powerful INTERNAL management tool, beyond a simple EXTERNAL communications framework. How do we encourage businesses to think more deeply?

Bhaskar Chakravorti said:

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.


(Matthew Gitsham) #24

I think many companies are seeing the SDGs as interesting primarily because of the capacity they might have to stimulate new partnerships, particularly partnerships that could unlock new funding streams that could enable businesses to make significant contributions to particular SDG areas at scale. In particular, I've heard many citing the example of the GAVI Alliance partnership, and how that flourished during the MDG era - Iots of companies are hoping that similar kinds of partnerships might be created for other SDG areas.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #25

Matthew - one of my worries is about the language barrier here. In your experience are companies finding traction internally for the SDGs terminology?


Matthew Gitsham said:

From the conversations we've been having with companies already engaging with the SDGs, I've heard several ways in which the SDGs are already having a practical impact. For organisations reviewing their sustainability strategies, the SDGs are being used as a reference point - if a company is making a decision between which initiatives to prioritise, it is choosing those that align most closely with the SDGs (as well as their own core business), because of the legitimacy of the process that went in to deciding on these global priorities.

Second, for individuals trying to get increased backing and buy-in internally for particular initiatives from colleagues internally across their businesses and value chains, if the initiative aligns with the SDGs, this is giving them extra confidence to really push what they're trying to do, and also helps a little with getting traction from colleagues. Also, I've heard some people talking about being able to access increased resources internally for existing initiatives, if the company is now making public statements about these initiatives being a contribution to the SDGs.


(Matthew Gitsham) #26

Novozymes is a really interesting company to look at because the potential of the SDGs to create new public-private partnerships is something that informed the development of their new corporate strategy in 2014, which is titled 'Partnering for Impact'. This corporate strategy is aligned with the SDGs and the company has targets to help create more of these kinds of partnerships.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #27

Hui - has Citi chosen to focus on any specific SDGs, or are you looking at broader issues of financing the whole agenda?

Hui Wen Chan said:

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.


(Bhaskar Chakravorti) #28

What do the SDGs add?

1. They give us a framework to get a sense of the larger picture. How our individual points of intervention might contribute to the others and to end states for the people and planet by 2030. It places each private actor's intervention in perspective and helps determine the leverage points.

2. They give us an idea as to who else is investing - among possible partners or even competitors.

3. They create a disciplinary mechanism - to allow private actors to commit and then be held accountable.

Will respond to the second part of the question separately.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

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?


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #29

Hi Julie - are you able to share any more detail? Which SDGs have you decided to focus on?

Julie Wallace said:

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.


(Nadim Choucair) #30

Hello all, my name is Nadim and I am a student at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. I am working on a project on the role Human Centered Design in achieving the SDGs with a focus on SDG 11 and a case about Beirut.
An interesting take on the SDG's is the way we can categorize them in terms of scope. SDG 11 & 13 are the only ones with a spatial scope - On a city scale for SDG 11 and a global scale for SDG 13. Looking further into these SDGs we can see how their SDG targets are related to almost all other SDG's. To answer the second part of the question, the SDGs can help companies reorganize their efforts by providing a layered spatial and then thematic approach. It can also help them to align their efforts with the larger sustainability agenda of where they locally operate in order to drive real impact, while at the same time compare their sustainability efforts on a global scale with the common goals. I however completely agree about the risk mentioned by Prof. Chakravorti about the SDGs becoming a tool for marketing and I worry that might become the criteria for measuring performance!


(Julie Wallace) #31

Yes, we are also very interested in partnership points. It is great to see SDG 17 and more emphasis on partnerships and blended finance to address sustainable development challenges and opportunities.


(Julie Wallace) #32



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Hi Julie - are you able to share any more detail? Which SDGs have you decided to focus on?

Julie Wallace said:

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.


(Zahid Torres-Rahman) #33

Thanks for all the insights! Let's move on to our final set of questions:

Q3. 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?


(Bhaskar Chakravorti) #34

What should companies be doing differently as a result of the SDGs?

1. Continue what they have already been doing on sustainable development until they have a reason to revise their plans.

2. Consider the entire SDG laundry list and build a narrative that connects each SDG to others to help identify their leverage points and distinguish between "means" and "ends" - not all SDGs are the same. This means pick SDGs that: A) intersect with their value chains; B) have deep and wide impact on people, planet and policy end states; C) have a solid business case from the company's perspective. Then create plans to follow through, track the results and revise. Also, make your commitments public, so you can declare where you stand so others can calibrate - and you can be held accountable.


Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

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?


(Julie Wallace) #35

Zahid, we aren't focusing on just one SDG. We've mapped the SDGs against our core business areas, and will be highlighting how our business activities and community programmes support several SDGs. We included several references to this in our 2015 Sustainability Summary - available here (see page 13) - https://www.sc.com/en/resources/global-en/pdf/annual_reports/annual...

Julie Wallace said:



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Hi Julie - are you able to share any more detail? Which SDGs have you decided to focus on?

Julie Wallace said:

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.


(Richard Gilbert) #36

Language is definitely an issue coming up in our work. Successful narratives start with the business drivers and ground engagement with the SDGs firmly in the day to day core business. Where we have seen internal push back is when companies focus their engagement with the goals around high profile initiatives which may be eye-catching for external audiences but do not relate to the day to day business of the company. Also the need to avoid technical development language is often called out.


(Matthew Gitsham) #37

I think Cemex is a good example to look at here. If you look at their most recent sustainability report, it contains within it a high-level summary of a mapping Cemex did of all it's existing activities and how they contribute to different SDGs. After doing this analysis, Cemex identified a number of new initiatives it would start in addition to what it was already doing.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

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.


(Bhaskar Chakravorti) #38

It is critical that as external facilitators, researchers and influencers, we ensure that the SDGs do not become a new mechanism for greenwashing. Already, for far too many organizations, the SDGs have basically been turned over to the marketing departments. We need P&L owners to own these goals. Nothing wrong with marketing to then pick up on it.


(Richard Gilbert) #39

I think the real challenge for companies is understanding in a practical sense how they go about embedding the goals into core operations and supply chains. There is relatively little “how to” guidance here – relating to how to identify and set targets and indicators, how to integrate into business policies and processes and how to report.

In our conversations with companies the need for practical guidance for how people should engage with the SDGs through their day to day work is often cited. For example, teams with responsibility for developing products and services could benefit from some explanation on the SDGs and how they relate to product strategies. They would also benefit from some baseline guidance for product design, marketing, engaging with government etc.


Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the insights! Let's move on to our final set of questions:

Q3. 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?


(Bhaskar Chakravorti) #40

What tools do businesses need?

We need to give them tools to figure out: A) where to play in this vast space - and why; B) how their investments can help grow their markets and build competitive advantage; C) identify partnerships and how to execute on them; D) what data they need to track.

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the insights! Let's move on to our final set of questions:

Q3. 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?