The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are ostensibly a vision. They’re a shared framework for a path to a better world. But who are they for? Development organizations, non-profits, and other social enterprises?
They can be leveraged in any of those contexts. And more. And yet, one such context has been slow to invite the SDGs into their strategic planning and execution in the world of small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
There is a big opportunity for business leaders at this level to take advantage of the value that strategic SDG alignment can bring to their businesses.
Decision-makers need to understand the potential value and tools needed to realize that value. We’ll briefly take a look at both in this article.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
From climate action to gender equality, the 17 SDGs proposed by the United Nations three years ago are a set of international objectives to help “achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
They set out defined goals in each category to be reached by 2030, calling for a concerted global development effort.
Progress so far has been mixed.
Although advances have been made and the impact realized, the world will fall short of achieving the ambitious SDG targets at the current rate.
This is partly due to the ambitious nature of the goals but can also be attributed to the rising effects of climate change and violent conflicts worldwide—a full report on understanding SDG alignment and measurement in business - SDGs from the UN.
To throw a positive spin on the situation, we still have more than a decade to progress towards the goals. A huge piece of that progress will need to come from the private sector.
Business Solutions for the SDGs
Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals is about value creation. When done right, strategic alignment can bring value across the sphere of influence of any business, from customers to investors and employees to community stakeholders.
Many large companies have already taken the lead and demonstrated how their business practices contribute to the goals in their yearly reporting. In fact, according to a KMPG report, four of the top ten largest companies in the world are doing so.
Where does that leave the little guys?
After all, nearly half of the U.S. employment sector comprises small businesses, and most private sector businesses across the globe are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Their footprint is huge. This means their opportunity to have a positive impact is also enormous. They need a few things to get started.
Adopting the Mindset for SDGs in Small Businesses
Most SMEs don’t have a strategic planning department and therefore aren’t thinking about how SDG alignment can benefit the business in the short- and long term.
The first step to deciding how alignment might benefit the company is to understand where the company fits amongst the 17 goals. What goals does the company touch on directly? Indirectly? Where could it proactively have an influence?
Starting with these questions, an organization can begin to visualize its place on the SDG map and decide how it wants to contribute.
Understanding Value Creation Through the SDGs
According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, by 2030, sustainable business models could unlock more than $10 trillion of economic opportunities and nearly 400 million jobs.
The nature of that value will be different for every business. But there is value to be had.
This is even clearer when we examine the shift in consumer tendencies, with more and more preferring to buy from brands with sustainable practices.
Furthermore, there are bottom-line arguments to make, for example, for more sustainable supply chains. There could be more clear-cut profitability from increased efficiency to competitive advantage when going the sustainable way.
Tools for Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals
This may all sound a bit idealistic or good in theory but not so realistic in practice to the skeptical business mind. There are established tools to make the process (especially for SMEs) much easier for the eager and skeptical mind alike.
For example, the SDG Compass is an excellent place to begin. Designed specifically for the business world, the platform gives decision-makers a complete guide to SDG alignment, which can be downloaded here.
The guide calls for a definition of priorities and goals and proper reporting of the business activities and progress. What’s still needed is a platform to manage those priorities, the data involved with them, and the production of those important reporting documents.
Sopact's Impact Cloud is built to do just that. A cloud-based platform, the Impact Cloud enables successful and strategic business alignment with the SDGs.
It includes a comprehensive metrics database, easy filtering, cross-team accessibility, analysis features, and report creation. In other words, it can help businesses unleash their potential to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Learn More: Impact Measurement