Be more ambitious with the SDGs — for the world and business

SDG Ambition
UN Global Compact
From left: Julie Sweet, CEO, Accenture; Jennifer Morgan, co-CEO, SAP; Lise Kingo, CEO and executive director, U.N. Global Compact; Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General; Ann Rosenberg, senior vice president for U.N. Partnerships at SAP and global head of SAP Next-Gen; and Peter Lacy, senior managing director, European Strategy Lead and global sustainability lead, Accenture.

The pressure is mounting for a "new normal." That’s the brief summary from this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, which I attended last month with the United Nations Secretary-General, my team and many of U.N. Global Compact's business partners. World leaders increasingly understand the urgency of becoming more ambitious to deliver the world we all want. Among their chief concerns is climate change, which the 2020 WEF Risk Report presented as the mother of all risks.

For the U.N. Global Compact, Davos presented a unique opportunity. It marked that 20 years ago, the late U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiated a global compact of shared values and principles between the United Nations and business to give the global market a human face. It also marked the launch into the U.N. Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Walk or talk?

The Decade of Action marks a shift. The planetary window for "business as usual" is rapidly closing, leaving us with a climate emergency of existential proportions. Coupled with environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and growing social and economic disparities, framework conditions for governments, businesses and citizens alike are becoming increasingly unsafe and unpredictable. 

Therefore, it is no surprise that media commentaries and activists questioned all of us delegates at the forum in Davos: Are you showing true concern, ready to go back and take the needed action? Or is it just talk?

For sure, to date, our collective actions have not been transformational or comprehensive enough to match the scale of the sustainability challenges we face. The time to act is now.

It’s time to increase ambition

The U.N. Global Compact came armed with one ask for business leaders: To kick-start the Decade of Action by increasing ambition and embed the 10 Principles and the SDGs into business strategy.

Through a groundbreaking partnership with SAP, a world-leading digital infrastructure provider, and Accenture Strategy, a world-leading strategy consultancy, U.N. Global Compact launched SDG Ambition together with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

This brand-new and transformational global initiative wants nothing less than to change business models so they become future-fit for Agenda 2030. A cornerstone is a practical SDG Implementation Framework. It guides businesses in how to anchor SDG ambition as part of their purpose, governance, corporate strategy and goals; how to deepen integration across operations — into products and services, people management and corporate finance. And finally, alongside the integration of ambition, how to authentically enhance stakeholder engagement through reporting and corporate communications, sales and marketing, partnerships and stakeholder relations.   

This new initiative will be rolled out via the U.N. Global Compact Local Networks at the country level, to challenge and support companies across the world in raising ambition and deepening implementation. We expect to work with at least 1,000 companies in 40 markets over the next three years to accelerate the pace of change.

Increase ambition to deliver impact where it is needed most

At the WEF gathering, the spotlight was on climate change and the need for a new, more inclusive and just economic model. We were excited that WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab kick-started this year’s Davos with a call to action for all companies to sign up to our Business Ambition for 1.5 C, launched in June. To date, nearly 200 companies have made the pledge to set science-based targets aligned with a 1.5 degrees Celsius future, and we expect many more to join — because it is our only future.

Creating a more inclusive and just economy starts by closing the gender gap. This year’s WEF Gender Gap Report came out with the sobering message that neither this nor the next generation of women are likely to experience gender parity in their lifetime. Also here we call on companies to increase ambition and Target Gender Equality.  

Uniting business for a better world

As we launch into the Decade of Action, we look forward to bringing more than 1,500 leaders together from across the world for our U.N. Global Compact Leaders Summit on June 15-16. Here we will reimagine, reset and redefine ambition, leadership and action to deliver the world we want. Towards 2030, we all need to become activists.