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Know the Sustainable Development Goals: First, end poverty

The targets are audacious enough: Basically, save the world. Yet will the world dare to reach these Sustainable Development Goals by 2030?

This story first appeared on the blog of Corporate Citizenship, a global business consultancy specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility. Its series of articles about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is running here.

Having achieved several Millennium Development Goals (PDF), the United Nations, with much wider consultation than back in 2000, set out to develop the new framework for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are in draft form at present.

With 17 new goals to be achieved by 2030, the big question is: How might the new framework and SDGs impact how we go about corporate sustainability and CSR in the foreseeable future? Will the collaboration between governments, NGOs and the private sector have even more success in support of solving the world’s poverty and environmental challenges?

For us in the private sector, that probably depends on how easily the goals can be incorporated into company target setting and if we are able to align our corporate social purpose with one or more goals.

For instance, Unilever’s framework and strategy gives an example of how this could work in practice. In a way, the more goals which we have, the more we have to choose from when linking to company business strategy and sustainability programs — and if broken down into a set of indicators that can be aligned to business opportunities and the corporate social purpose, we should see companies being able to get involved.

There has been some criticism about there being too many goals and too broad an agenda, but honestly I would not get too hung up on that. Focus and align with the opportunities for your company to positively affect these SDG targets and your own.

At a conference in Manila that I attended recently, Shifting Gears — Fostering Sustainable Value, partnership and companies’ purpose beyond profit was debated on and off the court, so to speak. Profit beyond purpose to achieve long term growth, and aligning that social purpose with that of an NGO’s and government with a similar purpose, must be the way forward for balancing wealth globally and mitigating climate change.

A successful company is worth little in a broken society with depleted resources. After all — as the U.N. says — The MDGs: Everyone’s Business and many are getting involved already through Business Call to Action.

The SDGs are due to be finalized in March with detailed indicators, and to be formally launched Sept. 25 in New York.

In the countdown to the launch in September, and to support business and identify opportunities, Corporate Citizenship is publishing one article about SDG each per week. You can find the original series here.

What is your company doing to help deliver on the SDGs?

— Karin Laljani

SDG 1: End poverty in all its forms

SDG No. 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Poverty: big, bold and very challenging.

Wow! Let’s say that again: The SDG No. 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. And in just 15 years; by 2030 like the other proposed Sustainable Development Goals being debated, and hopefully agreed by the United Nations in New York in September.

Dig into the details of this first goal and it becomes more doable. Eradicate extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day), halve other forms of poverty according to national definitions, build resilience and so forth. And actually, this builds on huge progress already made. One triumph of the outgoing Millennium Development Goals was cutting extreme poverty in half between 1990 and 2010, which benefited 700 million people. But that still leaves 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty today.

Full marks for ambition, then.

What’s needed now is real recognition of how that MDG success happened, and what will drive the next leap forward. That means economic growth led by business through open global trading, supported by governments. It’s true that two of the later draft goals (Nos. 8 and 9) do directly address growth, employment, infrastructure and innovation. And it’s also true that the whole framework of the SDGs is intended to be “holistic,” more easily allowing business to contribute. Good to see individual companies actively participating in discussions, therefore, along with representative organizations such as WBCSD and ICC working together in the Global Business Alliance for post-2015.

My message to business, however, is don’t just focus on growth, on arguing for a bigger cake. What matters as well is who gets a slice, and how big that is; in other words, how growth is shared.

Companies aren’t comfortable talking about questions of equity. Frankly, they’re very shy about facing facts on pay differentials between the top and the bottom. Or who is getting the money up and down their extended value chains in precarious “flexible” employment. Or how much goes to governments in tax versus shareholders in dividends. Or indeed whether developing countries get a fair deal compared to the rich north.

SDG No.1 is big and bold — but also very challenging to complacent business-as-usual companies.

Mike Tuffrey

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