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East Anglia Future 50

Does your company have the right values? How to incorporate the UN's Sustainable Development Goals into your business.

PUBLISHED: 13:34 07 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:28 07 March 2019

United Nations General Assembly - the UN's Sustainable Development Goals were agreed on in 2015 Picture: UN /Manuel Elias

United Nations General Assembly - the UN's Sustainable Development Goals were agreed on in 2015 Picture: UN /Manuel Elias

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Forward-thinking organisations understand that there is a real world outside the office walls and that businesses have a role to play in improving the world.

Graphic showing the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Picture: UNGraphic showing the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals Picture: UN

Increasingly a new generation of employees are demanding that companies have the right values if they are to consider working for them. A survey of millenial workers conducted last year by accounting firm Deloitte found that 81% of younger people believe social and environmental practices are just as important as a company’s financial results.

This partly explains why a growing number of businesses are taking an interest in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and how they can be adopted within their activities.

The SDG’s hark back to 2015 when all member states of the United Nations signed up to The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

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At its heart are the 17 SDGs, (see box) regarded by many as an urgent call for action by all countries, which recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth - all while tackling climate change and working to preserve the world’s oceans and forests.

Justine Oakes, business and research manager at the University of Suffolk Picture: University of SuffolkJustine Oakes, business and research manager at the University of Suffolk Picture: University of Suffolk

Business strategy

But while these 17 goals are all noble and aspirational - just what do they mean for businesses and how can companies incorporate them into their operations?

Practical advice was offered at a breakfast meeting recently hosted by the Suffolk Sustainability Institute.

The main session was led by Justine Oakes, a business and research manager at the University of Suffolk, whose presentation advised on how companies can make use of the 17 SDGs plus all the individual targets and performance indicators related to them.

“The range and breadth that they cover makes it difficult for businesses to tackle them all at the same time,” she acknowledged.

“What most companies are doing is prioritising the goals that are relevant to the work they are currently doing or the products they are making, and looking at the definitions within them against the targets.

The flag of the United Nations - the UN's Sustainable Development Goals come from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity Picture: UNThe flag of the United Nations - the UN's Sustainable Development Goals come from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development - a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity Picture: UN

“This might seem that they are not doing enough but the performance indicators against the goals have been designed to be cross-thematic, so for example within climate change there will be goals about looking after waste and resources not just the obvious energy ones that you would imagine.

“So by working towards one goal, you start to make inroads into some of the other goals.”

The key thing for businesses, she added, is to choose what they are already doing well to enable a quick win -and to communicate that to the people who work within the organisation, the supply chain and customer base.

Then, over time, organisations can start moving over to some of the other goals where maybe more work will be required.

Standards

Flags of member nations fly at United Nations headquarters. All members have signed up to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals  Picture: UNFlags of member nations fly at United Nations headquarters. All members have signed up to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals Picture: UN

When it comes to standards relating to the SDGs, a group called the World Benchmarking Alliance launched last year with a remit to define standards for five SDGs regarded as being among the most impactful, namely: food and agriculture, climate and energy, digital inclusion and gender equality and empowerment.

Data is currently being collected and the standards are expected to be fully developed by 2023.

“This is very much an open discussion still with the business community talking about what they should be managing and how should they be reporting against it,” continued Ms Oakes.

“If organisations have already gone for existing standards around diversity and equality, maybe around the Modern Slavery Act and they are able to show they are meeting environmental standards - they are along those lines already.

“It would be logical to assume that the business community will respond – ISO will probably be a big player in this - with standards that already reflect the kind of work that people are doing in this area.

She added: “There are also a lot of things that professional trade bodies can do and I expect we will see organisations moving into this space in terms of setting up their own accreditation schemes.

“Suffolk County Council already has its Carbon Charter and it may look to put in place other initiatives that touch on other areas that give companies assurance but also allow them to showcase the good work they are doing.”

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