business sdgs
Alan Pierce 10/1/18 9:34 AM 12 min read

Aligning Business With The UN Sustainable Development Goals

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, other social enterprises?

They can be leveraged in any of those contexts. And more. And yet, one such context which has been slow to invite the SDGs into their strategic planning and execution is 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 also the tools needed to realize that value. We’ll briefly take a look at both in this article.

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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 the year 2030, calling for a concerted global development effort.

sdg goal 2 hunger - small businesses working towards sustainable development goals

Progress so far has been mixed.

Although advances have been made and impact realized, at the current rate the world will fall short of achieving the ambitious SDG targets.

This is partly due, perhaps, to the ambitious nature of the goals, but can also be attributed to the rising effects of climate change and violent conflicts around the world. 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 make progress towards the goals. A huge piece of that progress will need to come from the private sector.

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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 demonstrate how their business practices are contributing 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 is make up of small businesses and the vast majority of private sector businesses across the globe are small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SDG for small business - sustainable development goals

Their footprint is huge. Which means their opportunity to have a positive impact is also enormous. They just need a few things to get started.

Read More: How Can a Business Use Global Standards for Impact Reporting?


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 be beneficial to the company is understanding 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 start making decisions about how it wants to contribute.

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Understanding Value Creation Through the SDGs

According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, by the year 2030 sustainable business models could unlock more than $10 trillion of economic opportunities and nearly 400 million jobs.

small business sustainability practices

The nature of that value will be different for every business. But it’s clear that there is value to be had.

This is even more clear 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 made, for example, for more sustainable supply chains. From increased efficiency to competitive advantage, there could be more clear-cut profitability when going the sustainable way.

Read More: Understanding How to Wield Social Return on Investment (Part II)


Tools for Aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals

To the skeptical business mind, this may all sound a bit idealistic, or good in theory but not so realistic in practice. For the eager and skeptic mind alike there are established tools to make the process (especially for SMEs) much easier to embark upon.

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 defining of priorities and goals, as well as 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 about tools and best practices for aligning to UN SDG.

For a walkthrough, and to start making sure we start getting closer to reaching those ambitious goals, click the button below.

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Alan Pierce

Alan is a social sector consultant and one of the founding directors of Quantica Education, a school of social entrepreneurship in Colombia.