The UN has a plan to save the planet. But it needs the private sector to foot much of the bill.
January 21, 2019
At the end of September last year, the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Iran, Israel, South Korea, the United States, and many others will gathered in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly, the annual convening of heads of state.
“About 95% of the world’s leaders will be in New York City,” NYPD Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati told the New York Daily News, for the opening of the August assembly’s 73rd session. And while Macron, May, Abe, Netanyahu and Trump got most of the headlines, much less ink was devoted to a critical breakthrough that the UN approved three years ago and that has yet to reach the critical mass in attention and visibility it deserves. That breakthrough could be Earth’s salvation.
In 2015, three months before the more-heralded Paris Climate Change Conference, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of milestones that are, essentially, a roadmap to save the planet. That roadmap comprises 17 themes under the "social good" umbrella, each representing a different goal — from poverty and hunger to climate change and education accompanied by no less than 169 individual targets.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a 15-year plan to address and solve the world's thorniest problems by 2030. If humanity can actually achieve these goals, we can pretty much guarantee a course for a sustainable and just future for all.
The question is, though: Who is going to pay for it?
The stars of the social-good show are recognizable causes that — for good reason — have long attracted activists, philanthropists, and academics. The first 16 SDGs are devoted to these critical issues, including Gender Equality (SDG5), Climate Action (SDG13) and Life on Land (SDG15, concerned with protecting terrestrial ecosystems). The final SDG, though, is the one that has gotten the least attention to date: SDG 17, Partnerships. The idea behind this goal is that, as vital as the first 16 goals are, business needs to step up - and there needs to be a mechanism to pay for them.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says achieving the SDGs will require US$5 trillion to $7 trillion in annual investment. Public-sector appetite for making that large of a financial commitment is as likely as a certain mythical place freezing over. (And Hell is a lot less likely to freeze over these days, what with global warming.) And so SDG17 was primarily drafted with the private sector in mind, the idea being that, without private-sector funding, the SDGs will never be achieved.
While the public at large has yet to become fully aware of the SDGs (despite the efforts of so many fantastic initiatives, such as Project Everyone and Global Citizen), brands have fully embraced the SDGs.
Some of those brands’ identities are closely tied with bettering the planet or social good, such as Seventh Generation, Toms, and Patagonia.
And even though the SDGs have yet to fully grab consumer consciousness, the modern consumer does expect more social and purposeful commitment from their brands. Consider that:
* 59 percent of millennials look to companies to solve social and environmental problems they feel they can’t address (or would rather not have to).
* 64 percent of Americans say a company's environmental reputation impacts their purchase decisions.
* 93 percent of consumers demand that brands be purpose-led or values driven (source: PSFK 2018 Customer Experience Survey).
The private sector has been ahead of the curve on stats like these — and the SDGs are a perfect vehicle for brands to showcase their commitment to social-good causes. That commitment has outcomes that extend well beyond brand benefits — we all benefit from these commitments.
If humanity can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we can pretty much guarantee a course for a sustainable and just future for all.
With that in mind, here are three noteworthy initiatives in which brands are working in partnerships to help bring visibility to the SDGs — and to better the Earth.
The Cannes Lions awards have recognized the pinnacle of work in creative communications for almost 70 years. In 2018, a new Lion was added to the field — an SDG Lion, “marking a new drive to advance awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) … and encourage the creative industries to celebrate and support sustainability around the world.” The inaugural SDG Lion went to a campaign called the “Palau Pledge,” in which visitors to the Pacific-island nation receive, among other things, a passport stamp requiring them to respect nature and its bounty while in Palau.
Philip Thomas, Chairman of the Cannes Lions, noted in New York at an UNGA event that proceeds from the 900 entries for the award (more than $350,000 USD) would go to sustainable-development causes.
With an All Star lineup of CEOs like Sir Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and Marc Benioff (and advisors like Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson), you would think think this group would make a formidable “A” Team. But the idea behind The B Team is that there is no Planet B. The B Team is a not-for-profit initiative “formed by a global group of business leaders to catalyze a better way of doing business, for the wellbeing of people and the planet.”
These leading lights of business — representing some of the most recognizable properties on the globe — have embraced all manner of social-good initiatives. "The CEO profile is changing,” noted Chobani CEO and B Team member Hamdi Ulukaya. “The private sector is now the most effective change maker period. If you don’t use that voice & power, that’s going to have a negative impact on you."
The UN Global Compact is a coalition of more than 9,500 companies from more than 160 countries, banded together in a “voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to take steps to support UN goals.” The spine of the Global Compact are 10 Principles that govern the initiative’s behavior, borrowing from such landmark UN achievements as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
At the Compact’s Leaders’ Summit last year in New York, the focus was on “working to set targets aimed at making meaningful impacts to tackle today’s interconnected issues — from climate to the ocean, to water security and health — that drive actions required to achieve the Global Goals.”
In fact, the UN Global Compact has just released their progress report. You can download a copy from this link. It is an assessment of how businesses are adopting the Ten Principles of the Global Compact in their strategy and operations, as well as an evaluation of their actions to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Consistent with last year’s survey, companies say that the top three Global Goals they are targeting are Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal 5 on Gender Equality and Goal 3 on Good Health and Well-Being.
Here’s the bottom line (pun intended). Good business is not an option – it’s an imperative. Those businesses that adopt a culture of social innovation and sustainable business practices are 18% more profitable than those that don’t! (Harvard Business Review) It requires agility, collaboration, creativity, partnership and total transparency - right from the top.