An alternative framework — ‘The Unsustainable Development Goals’
‘The Unsustainable Development Goals’ are a stocktake of the current state of the world and the biggest challenges it faces, from poverty and hunger to climate chaos and war.
There is global consensus that a lot of these things are unacceptable or highly problematic and that action needs to be taken. In response, the United Nations undertook a massive public consultation exercise and came up with the goals.
The SDGs cover a broad spectrum of issues, all intending to achieve a fair, environmentally friendly and economically prosperous world.
The SDGs are the opposite of the Unsustainable Development Goals: they are an aspirational vision for the future of our shared world. These SDGs have been agreed upon by national governments and have been integrated into policy-making, international agreements and conventions. They are forming a powerful new way of thinking about the challenges our planet faces, with high levels of buy-in at different levels — from individual communities to international alliances.
Society’s expectations of corporations have changed over time, but corporations have failed to keep up. We are moving from a ‘shareholder perspective’ that became fashionable in the 1980s, back to a ‘stakeholder perspective’, and need to move to a ‘systems value perspective’ of long-term value creation.24 The goals help organisations tell their sustainable value stories to multiple stakeholders and shift the focus from the short-term to
This needs to start with an organisation’s stated purpose. In simple terms, an organisation’s purpose provides the foundation for why it exists and what it does. As expectations of business change, organisations need increasingly to think about their wider societal impact and their ability to help build a more sustainable world. Profit is not a purpose, and organisations need to rethink the difference they make to society.25 Embedding the goals into an organisation’s stated purpose helps build long-term resilience. They also engage with customers, consumers and investors who increasingly seek relationships with purpose-led organisations and brands with commitments to sustainability.
Finally, organisations need to reassess their assumptions around competition
and collaboration in the pursuit of innovative ways to achieve the goals. Johnson reminds us of the importance
The goals are consequently challenging how organisations, governments and multiple stakeholders approach collaboration in the ambition to build inclusive and sustainable economies. Mazzucato notes, 'to address the goals we need a very different approach to public-private partnerships from the one we have now. This requires a massive rethink of what government is for and the types of capability and capacity it needs. But, more importantly, it depends on what sort of capitalism we want to build, how to govern the relationship between public and private sectors and how to structure rules, relationships, and investments so that all people can flourish and planetary boundaries are respected'.27
The business case
'Meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is a $12 trillion opportunity'.28
This is a conclusion from the Better Business, Better World report from the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, published in 2017. It found that if just four sectors met the goals by 2030, the market opportunities could amount to $12 trillion a year.29 The goals help organisations focus on the key global challenges ahead and in building business resilience. This includes managing reputational risks, building integrated thinking to organisational strategic decision-making and meeting stakeholder demands for greater transparency on
Carney notes that the SDGs give organisations clarity and consensus to an ultimate goal of a sustainable economy.
The goals, by their very nature, also require global collaboration, across organisations, sectors, industries, governments and countries. As Mazzucato highlights, they can unite diverse stakeholders in multidisciplinary thinking and action. 'One strength of the SDGs Is that they engage diverse stakeholders across the world. They identify internationally agreed grand challenges that have been chosen by broad and comprehensive consultation around the world. They offer huge opportunities to direct innovation at multiple social and technological problems to create societies that are just, inclusive and sustainable'.31
The move from short-term horizons to longer-term outcomes that the goals promote also have the potential to fuel sustainable prosperity, not just for organisations, but for all.