Following the Rio+20 Conference – The Future We Want, 147 member states worldwide have agreed that a new set of aspirational goals known as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are needed to build upon the millennium development goals (MDGs) which expire in 2015. The SDGs consist of 17 goals and further subdivided into 169 targets applicable across both developing and developed countries. A wide range of focus areas are covered such as the need to end poverty, world hunger, create access to education, mitigate the impacts of climate change and sustain global partnerships among many others.
Given the involvement of multiple countries, there is often much debate on the “common but differentiated principle”. This principle states that while member countries are in agreement with the overall goals but how they approach each of these goals would differ depending on specific geographical, political or economic context.
The 169 targets are currently set at a global level, they would eventually need to be interpreted first at a national level and secondly at a corporate level for it to be meaningful. Notably, while work has taken place by respective countries to align to these mutually agreed SDG targets, the participation from corporations have thus far been lacking. There is still a great deal of uncertainty in terms of how corporations should or could contribute towards the achievement of all 169 SDG targets.
If corporation are serious about becoming sustainability leaders they should not adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach. Rather, they should begin to critically think about their roles in supporting the outcomes of the SDGs. Five recommendations are provided here for corporations to consider:
- Align corporate objectives to SDGs- Corporations should align their vision and mission statements to support the outcomes expected from SDGs. This might involve a cultural shift or transformation in the way that businesses are run. Instead of just focusing on profitability businesses would now need to consider the systemic impacts it has on the environment and society at large.
- Develop action plans for deployment- Corporations can begin to play an active role by developing action plans that are aligned to the outcomes of SDGs. For example, corporations can review existing policies within their corporation or a lack thereof that are related to SDGs such as gender diversity or child protection policies.
- Review budget/ resources required to execute action plans- It is important for corporations to set aside a budget and ensure that adequate resources are allocated to drive the implementation of various initiatives.
- Establish partnerships with governments and NGOs- given the complexity of sustainability issues, it would not be possible for corporations to be sole actors, rather co-operation and partnerships with governments and NGOs are required.
- Monitor and review progress of action plans- lastly, corporations should strive to monitor the progress of the action plans and ensure that there is proper documentation on lessons learned. Lessons learned can be used as a catalyst for future improvements.
Dr Renard Siew is a researcher based at the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets (CEEM). His research interest lies in sustainability/ integrated reporting, ESG research, socially responsible investment (across different asset classes: equities, infrastructure and property/real estate), climate change, sustainability strategy and green construction for the building/infrastructure sector. Renard did his PhD at UNSW with the support of the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) Scholarship. He has published in international refereed journals on various sustainability issues in Asia.