Is there a business case for the ‘SDGs’?


Toby Crewe1As the European Commission kicks off Sustainable Energy Week, Toby Crewe, Sustainability Director, Schneider Electric, Energy and Sustainability Services, looks at the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the associated obstacles and barriers businesses face in achieveing these targets. 

The UN has set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve by 2030, addressing challenges from climate change to gender equality. The goals are recognised as huge opportunities for ‘transforming our world’ and call upon businesses to play a lead part in driving change. However, not enough businesses are actively involved at this stage.


The obstacles and barriers to more business involvement

Making change is no small feat. It requires companies to overhaul reporting processes, harness data and track effectively. This is all before they even begin to start effecting change within the business. Unsurprisingly, the first number executives look for when measuring a company’s ROI is pure financial performance and sustainability comes second to improving this metric

In addition, the requirement for tracking SDGs needs to be positioned carefully within the business; not primarily as the ethically or morally right thing to do, but as an opportunity to manage risk and thereby reduce costs. Moreover, it should be positioned as directly feeding the bottom line. In many cases it is down to leadership and finding the right person who understands the real drivers of sustainability.

From next year additional non-financial reporting is coming into effect for large organisations, and this will include disclosures on gender diversity. This reporting will support SDG #5 \Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. Programmes like the HeForShe campaign can help organisations mobilise the workforce into addressing these issues. It also helps to offer an aspirational message for businesses and the workforce to help in taking that step forward.


Climate action over SDGs

There has been a significant rise in awareness and action around climate change over the SDGs due to the differences between the two agendas. Driven by a ‘local’ focus, climate challenges are being addressed at home. With SDG #1 ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’ on the other hand, the focus is largely in locations which are considered foreign, unstable and where purchasing power is marginal.

Sometimes these challenges are perceived as nebulous – how do you end hunger and achieve food security, for example, but there’s also a perception that reporting change is far too complicated, with 169 indicators. It needs to broken down at a departmental level within organisations to encourage the adoption of the SDG indicators that can relate to the business.

As an example, Schneider Electric has created the Access to Energy programme to meet SDG #7 ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable , sustainable and modern energy for all’, contributing to poverty alleviation and environmental protection through innovative and economically sustainable inclusive business models in sub-Saharan Africa.


Market forces and barriers to business involvement

Is there ever going to be a good time to set ambitious targets? Probably not. Businesses could argue over timing, investment and market turbulence ad finitum, but the reality is change needs to happen. If businesses are feeling pressured by reporting metrics, they should focus on building a framework that makes benchmarking a measure of success. Schneider Electric measures sustainability in-line with #SDG 13, ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ against its Planet & Society Barometer, based on a number of key performance indicators that enable it to take action.

Many of the SDGs relate to sustainability data that companies are already collecting. With the introduction of new metrics, businesses should approach collection of data in a logical way, to ensure its of a standard that’s accountable. Start on a country level, and draw all data together in one centralised management system.

Take inspiration from the success stories that are already happening. India has the potential to become one of the world’s largest producers of green energy and could surpass many developed countries in this endeavour.


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