Harvard’s Eccles on the UN SDGs – They Are “Good for Business”

After months of study, deliberation and negotiation, members of the United Nations task force charged with establishing “Sustainable Development Goals” can take a bow — all 193 member nations have signed on to the goals, which address a wide range of ESG issues, such as solving hunger and poverty issues, addressing inequalities, dealing with climate change issues, creating more “sustainable cities,” and encouraging “more responsible” consumption.

There are 17 goals in total, and large—cap company managers we are speaking with in North America and Europe describe how their enterprises are now at work adopting goals and applying these to their long-term planning and target setting.  Companies are structuring programs and actions around the goals.  The actions/programs usually relate to the mission of the company.  A handful of companies that we’ve chatted with are attempting to address all 17 goals.

Are these companies unusual?  Should corporate boards and managements be wary of the UN setting goals that affect their business prospects? Do senior managers view this as the UN interfering with the ability to create value for shareholders?

Harvard University professor Bob Eccles says “no,” business leaders should and are adopting the goals for their companies.  Writing in Forbes, Eccles advises:  “The 2030 Agenda is very good news for the corporate community. Its goals represent clear business opportunities for those companies that understand sustainable change can be met through innovative products and services.”

Some goals, he explains, are industry-specific (such as clean water); some goals can be supported by every company (such as gender inequality). The goals represent aspirational markers for managements in both the short- and long-term (the goals go out to 2030).  Important:  Eccles sees it as the duty of the board of directors as fiduciaries to recognize the importance of the SDGs, and work to ensure that their company is responding with appropriate strategies.

The UN first set these types of goals in 2000, at the start of the new century, with the Millennium Goals.  Many public companies adopted these and fitted the goals to their own operations (such as reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions).  The usual practice was to align the company strategies and actions with the 2015 target date of those goals.  The new goals are much more sweeping and comprehensive and take the actions out to the 2030 date…companies are now assessing the 2000/2015 efforts and strategizing their embrace of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals were officially launched in September at the United Nations meetings in New York City.  In the weeks and months ahead, there will be much news and commentary about the SDGs, with companies, governments, NGOs, multi-lateral agencies, investor coalitions, and other stakeholders weighing in.  If you have not tuned in yet, we should point out that Harvard Professor Eccles is a prominent and credible voice in sustainability circles -– we encourage you to read the story below with his views.

And finally… if you’re a company that wants to explore what the SDGs mean to your organization’s strategy we’ve put together several resources and services here at G&A (and through our partners) that can assist you in this important strategy setting process.

Please contact us at lcoppola@ga-institute.com to learn more about how we can help.

UN Sustainable Development Goals: Good For Business
(Wednesday – October 21, 2015)
Source: Forbes – Businesses today are expected to be part of the solution to our world’s greatest challenges – from climate and water crises, to inequality and poverty – as captured in the Sustainable Development Goals …

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