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Aligning governance with the SDGs: A strategic imperative for businesses

Lessons on sustainable systems: Nigerian public sectors versus private institutions

By Celine Okoroma-Vincent

The global landscape of business is undergoing a significant shift. Consumers, investors, and talent are increasingly prioritizing purpose-driven organizations that contribute to a sustainable future. This growing demand for social and environmental responsibility presents a compelling opportunity for businesses to not only enhance their reputation but also achieve long-term success. At the forefront of this movement lie the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a powerful framework for businesses to navigate this evolving landscape.

The SDGs: A Universal Roadmap for Sustainable Development

Adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the SDGs are a collection of 17 interconnected goals designed to address global challenges like poverty, inequality, climate change, and environmental degradation etc. They represent a collective ambition to create a more just, prosperous, and sustainable world by 2030.

Here’s a glimpse into some of the SDGs and its transformative impact so far:

Ending poverty: SDG 1 aims to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere. According to the World Bank, in 2015, 736 million people lived below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. By 2018, that number had fallen to 689 million, a testament to the progress made.

Combating climate change: SDG 13 tackles the urgent threat of climate change and its impacts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that global warming is unequivocal, and human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Businesses have a crucial role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate risks.

Promoting wellbeing: SDG 3 focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights that non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases, are the leading cause of death globally.

Businesses can contribute to improved health outcomes by promoting healthy lifestyles and practices within their workforce and communities.

These are just a few examples of the wide-ranging impact envisioned by the SDGs.

Why Aligning with the SDGs makes strategic sense:

Beyond the ethical imperative, aligning with the SDGs presents a compelling strategic advantage for businesses. How?:

Enhanced Brand Reputation: Consumers are drawn to brands with a strong social conscience. A 2020 Nielsen study found that 83% of global consumers would be willing to pay more for brands that are committed to sustainability. Demonstrating your commitment to the SDGs builds brand trust and loyalty, fostering a positive reputation in the marketplace.

Future-Proofing Your Business: Sustainability is no longer a niche concern. By addressing environmental and social challenges, businesses are preparing for future regulations and resource scarcity. For instance, as countries implement stricter environmental regulations to combat climate change, companies with sustainable practices will be better positioned to adapt and thrive.

Innovation and Efficiency: The SDGs can spark innovation, leading to the development of new products, services, and processes that benefit both society and the company’s bottom line. For example, a company in the food and beverage industry might focus on SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) by developing innovative solutions to reduce food waste or improve agricultural practices. This focus on sustainability can lead to more efficient resource utilization and cost savings.

Attract and Retain Top Talent: Millennials and Gen Z prioritize working for companies with a social purpose. A 2018 study by Deloitte found that 87% of millennials say that a business’s commitment to positive social impact is a very or somewhat important factor in their decision to work for them. A strong SDG alignment can be a powerful magnet for attracting and retaining top talent.

Governance and the SDGs: Walking the Talk

Simply acknowledging the SDGs is not enough. Businesses must translate these goals into tangible actions through effective governance practices.

Here are some key considerations:

Integration into Strategy: The SDGs should not be relegated to a standalone initiative. Embed them into your core business strategy, ensuring alignment with your mission, vision, and values.

Leadership Commitment: Demonstrate unwavering leadership commitment to sustainability. Senior leaders must champion the SDGs and hold the organization accountable for progress.

Transparency and Reporting: Communicate your SDG efforts openly and authentically. Develop a robust sustainability reporting system that tracks progress on key metrics and shares information with stakeholders.

Risk Management: Identify and manage environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks that could impede your ability to achieve the SDGs. Proactive risk management ensures long-term business continuity and sustainability.

Stakeholder Engagement: Collaborate with stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and NGOs, to develop and implement effective SDG strategies.

Ready to take action? Here a few things businesses can do:

Identify Relevant SDGs: Analyze your business operations and identify which SDGs align with your core values and expertise. Focus on 2-3 SDG goals for a laser-sharp approach.

Integrate SDGs into Governance: Don’t relegate the SDGs to your CSR department. Embed them into your leadership discussions, strategic planning, and performance metrics.

Transparency is Key: Communicate your SDG efforts openly and authentically. Share your progress, challenges, and learnings to build trust with stakeholders.

Collaboration is Power: Partner with NGOs, other businesses, and community stakeholders to amplify your impact.

The SDGs are a call to action, not a burden. By aligning your governance practices with these goals, you become part of the solution. This not only benefits society, but strengthens your business for the long haul.

 

Celine Okoroma-Vincent is a Corporate Governance and Compliance Specialist