How companies can help create a more sustainable planet

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by United Nations member states in 2015, are a universal call to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people live in peace and prosperity by 2030. Geeta Morar, senior analyst in the environmental team at the National Business Initiative (NBI), shares how the organisation supports member companies to enhance their understanding of, and participation in, implementing the SDG agenda.

What is the role of business in responding to the SDGs?

The SDGs call for the participation of business in the development agenda and emphasise the need for cross- sector partnerships for implementation. Momentum must be scaled if we are to achieve the targets and unlock the economic opportunities from a transition towards low-carbon, sustainable economies. Integrating the SDGs into core business models and innovation can enhance company sustainability and competitiveness, improve the stability of their operating environments and unlock new market opportunities. According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC), this integration could unlock close to $12 trillion in market value and 380 million jobs, globally.

How is the NBI working to ensure that companies in South Africa commit themselves to the SDGs?

The NBI is a voluntary coalition of national and multinational companies working towards sustainable growth and development. The NBI adopted the SDGs as a strategic framework towards a sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic transition
for South Africa. We work with member companies to understand the importance of the SDGs for their planet and society,
to identify related market opportunity, and to craft and sell the business case for doing business differently. The NBI also intends to replicate the BSDC study to determine the economic value of implementing the SDGs in South Africa.

The NBI SDGs programme is designed to operate at two levels. First, to foster collaboration at sectoral level and between various stakeholders to create an enabling environment where all sectors thrive. Second, to provide support to companies to prioritise SDGs and enhance their competitiveness within economic contexts undergoing transition, using the methodology we provided.

This programme is relatively new and, in September 2018, the NBI ran a national SDGs roadshow in collaboration with Danish Industry to share information with member companies on the SDGs, related opportunities and global best practice. Since then, we have piloted our methodology with the Banking Association of South Africa and are currently running this process with companies in the agri- processing sector. Our work, including a leadership video and several useful infographics, can be found on the SDGs section of the NBI website.

Please share more on NBI’s learnings from Climate Week NYC 2019.

The link between responding to the SDGs and addressing climate change is becoming more apparent globally. Climate Week NYC is the business equivalent of the United Nations Climate Change Summit, where companies come together to enhance their role in mitigating climate change. Momentum is gathering behind the transition towards a low-carbon economy. Targets to support this transition are detailed within the targets of SDG 7 (clean energy) and SDG 13 (climate action). At Climate Week NYC, financial institutions such as HSBC and insurers such as Swiss Re shared how climate change and the low-carbon economy increasingly influence their investment and insurance decisions. Credit rating agencies such as Moody’s also provided insight into how they are building climate and transition risk considerations into future rating decisions. By participating in Climate Week NYC, NBI was able to gain global perspective. If we want South Africa to compete in the low-carbon economy, our businesses must start interrogating how they can be more responsive to climate change.

How responsive has corporate South Africa been to the SDGs and how does this compare to other countries?

In countries such as Denmark, where the SDGs are prioritised at national level, companies tend to adopt the SDGs more swiftly, whereas, in South Africa, more effort is made to engage companies on the SDGs. Furthermore, there are patterns relating to which sets of SDGs are prioritised in different regions. PwC analysed 729 sustainability reports from countries around the world and found that companies in developed countries tend to prioritise environment- related SDGs more often than companies in developing countries. The latter tend to focus on the SDGs relating to social development. These trends were also evident in the South African dataset and reflect differing socioeconomic contexts.

Some companies have already started to prioritise and report on their work in line with the SDGs, while others are still unfamiliar with their relevance to business competitiveness.

The NBI recommends that companies prioritise between three and seven SDGs since it is preferable to implement more focused SDG projects.

Larger corporations are more subjected to regulation, have departments that deal with sustainability compliance and have more resources to run SDG programming, while smaller businesses don’t always have the resources to do so, although they may be more agile and able to implement SDG- related commitments and changes faster. All companies could benefit from running a robust SDGs process.

GEETA MORAR: Senior analyst of environmental sustainability, NBI | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  |

Source: Trialogue Business in Society Handbook 2019