Faced with an ever-increasing demand for sustainable companies, the number of corporate organizations seeking to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in their business plans is growing.
The demand for sustainable companies is a factor that has acquired greater importance in recent years.
Since then, corporate organizations have sought to implement actions and policies focused on promoting sustainability and preserving the environment.
Far beyond replacing conventional light bulbs by fluorescent ones, abandoning the use of plastic cups and using those made of reusable material in the corporate environment, and seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the trend among companies has been the joint implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) elaborated by the United Nations Organization (UNO).
This market movement, which has already expanded globally, signals that there is a legitimate concern of companies to meet the new demands of the consumer public, which is increasingly demanding when it comes to the environment and sustainability.
Therefore, being aligned with global goals is fundamental to guarantee space in the market and win the consumer public's trust. And having knowledge about what are the goals proposed by the UN and the targets to be achieved with the execution of this action plan is essential to draw up a strategy and implement them effectively in corporate policies.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
The Sustainable Development Goals originated from the Millennium Development Goals, launched in the year 2000, which aimed to provide better living conditions for the world population by the year 2015.
After this period, with several advances observed and goals achieved at various levels, the Millennium Goals were broken down into 17 new objectives by the United Nations. The focus, now, would be on sustainability and the future of our planet and all existing animal and plant species.
Thus, during the United Nations Summit for Sustainable Development held in 2015, world leaders structured an action plan with the aim of eradicating poverty, fighting inequality, defending human rights, and promoting sustainable development to protect our planet.
From this meeting emerged the 17 goals to be adopted and put into practice with the joint participation of governments, international institutions and organizations, the business sector, and civil society. Once the goals had been established, the target was set to achieve them by the year 2030.
By meeting the targets set in this action plan, the UN understands that our generation will be leaving a more peaceful, prosperous, and free world for generations to come.
In this context, the SDGs are basically a global agenda of commitment to the environment, proposing goals that must be achieved both socially and environmentally, and economically and institutionally.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals make up the so-called UN Agenda 2030 and are divided into five areas, namely: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.
The idea is that the 193 member countries of the 2030 Agenda comply with the 169 goals stipulated in the plan between 2015 and 2030, engaging the public sector, the private sector, and civil society as a whole.
The UN's proposed Agenda 2030 meets a growing demand from the public for more effort and cooperation from companies to strengthen sustainability and promote environmental protection.
For this reason, corporate initiatives that promote sustainable growth present themselves as a great competitive advantage, and demonstrate whether certain companies are aware of and aligning themselves with the global sustainability agenda.
Companies such as UNILEVER, Natura, and MRV, for example, have already developed their sustainability plans based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
But ensuring the consumer public's preference is not the only advantage coming from the implementation of the SDGs incorporate sustainability plans. In fact, it is possible that companies will obtain many other benefits, which further reinforces the importance of considering implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in corporate policies and strategies.
And what are the advantages of implementing the SDGs?
It is estimated that implementing the SDGs will require an investment of approximately US$ 3 trillion. Investments of this amount, as can be assumed, are not possible for governments alone. Cooperation is needed from the private sector.
Brazil, which is among the 193 member countries of the UN, should guide its future public policies based on the Sustainable Development Goals. Given this scenario, the time is excellent to seek to establish public-private partnerships and thus move towards the 169 goals of the 2030 Agenda.
Thus, the first major advantage for companies with the implementation of the SDGs in their business plans and strategies is precisely the consolidation of greater dialogue with the government, facilitating the alignment of their economic interests with the commitment to promote sustainable development.
Furthermore, during the process of incorporating the SDGs into the corporate goals themselves, new business opportunities emerge, as it is possible to enter new markets focused on sustainability with greater confidence.
Being aligned with a global sustainable development agenda makes it easier to meet consumer demand for companies that provide products and services aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
A report by Better Business, Better World (BSDC) found that sustainable business can generate economic opportunities of about $12 trillion and 380 million jobs annually by 2030.
Therefore, becoming a sustainable company and seeking to achieve the 169 goals of the 2030 Agenda by implementing the SDGs is a very advantageous and profitable alternative, making it easier to attract and retain new customers, with the consequent consolidation of the brand as "green", and providing the opportunity to enter new markets that will emerge in the future.
Implementing the SDGs is also a great way to transmit the company's values. Far beyond a product or service, it also starts to sell a concept, a way of acting, an image of the company to the world and to society, increasing the value of corporate sustainability.
Finally, another major advantage is the greater ease in obtaining credit and attracting investors. This is due to the fact that in order to avoid risks and ensure better financial returns in the long term, credit providers such as banks, for example, as well as investment fund managers have become more concerned about the companies to which they extend credit.
Credit-granting analyses now take into account whether the recipient companies are engaged in promoting sustainability and the alignment of the business plan with the SDGs.
With the new criteria adopted by the financial sector, the implementation of the SDGs in corporate business plans becomes even more essential for companies seeking market stability and attraction of new investments and customers, constituting a real advantage for those companies that need credit release to expand their operations.
But to be able to enjoy these advantages, it is necessary to know how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals effectively. After all, otherwise, if the strategy is wrong and does not achieve its goal, the company will not obtain the benefits mentioned. And, for this, it is necessary to know how to define which SDGs should be implemented.
How, then, to define which SDGs to work on in the company's strategy?
Initially, it is important to mention that the UN itself recognizes that it is not possible for companies to implement all SDGs in their business plans and strategies. Therefore, how to define which SDGs to work with?
To help companies' actions within the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and the UN Global Compact developed a guide, called the Sustainable Development Goals Compass (or SDG Compass).
The guide consists of a consistent five-step step-by-step that shows what should be used as criteria for choosing which SDG(s) to implement with. The five steps are: understanding and being familiar with the Sustainable Development Goals; defining priorities; setting goals; integrating goals and targets; and reporting and communicating the progress of activities in the context of the SDGs.
According to Beatriz Martins Carneiro, from the UN Global Compact Network Brazil, the choice of priority SDGs should be made through a negative impact analysis. Thus, the SDGs that are most impacted by the development of the company's activities should be elected as the most important to work on (at least during an initial moment).
Later on, it is possible to add more SDGs to corporate plans and strategies.
And how to implement them effectively?
At the first moment, the best way to design a successful strategy is to work on the development of goals and indicators related to the changes the company wants to make in order to mitigate the negative impacts resulting from its performance within the scope of the selected priority SDGs.
But setting goals, by itself, is not enough. In this sense, Beatriz Martins Carneiro points out that the targets must be set by the institution's top management and must unfold to individual targets.
Therefore, it is also necessary to set deadlines for monitoring until 2030, the year in which all of the UN's sustainable development goals should have been reached.
Once the objectives to be worked on and goals to be achieved have been defined, we finally start integrating sustainability into the business, functions, and activities developed by the company in practice.
As far as individual goals are concerned, one objective that can be easily established within a company is, for example, to eliminate gender differences in the workplace at all levels - in line, therefore, with Sustainable Development Goal 5, which is precisely about gender equality and proposes to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls.
Within this same scope, it is possible to partner with NGOs that focus on promoting gender equality. Working together with the public sector is also a good alternative, especially since the UN signatory countries have committed to base their public policies on the SDGs.
To the extent that the results of the policies to incorporate the SDGs are materialized, it is essential to provide consumers and investors with information about the progress made in terms of corporate sustainability.
To this end, the company can, in addition to disseminating information through its own social networks and website, prepare more elaborate reports, where it is possible to share more technical and detailed information.
To give more credibility to the reports, it is interesting to prepare them according to internationally recognized standards for sustainability reports, such as those used by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Program (CDP).
There is, therefore, an ocean of opportunities for large companies that want to consolidate themselves as sustainable and collaborate to achieve the 169 goals of the 2030 Agenda. This is a new reality that is proving that it is possible to combine economic growth, corporate interests, and sustainable development.
Implementing the SDGs in your business plan is a true investment that will bring positive returns to the company, whether in the sense of increased corporate sustainability value, or as a way to attract more investments, new consumers, and easier credit from financial institutions.