Corporate sustainability encompasses a wide range of economic, environmental, and social concerns. As an organization, you may reasonably ask yourself where to start as you endeavor to address this topic. A plan tailored to your business model and industry will help position you for success. Additionally, you should consider widely recognized standards and metrics to enable stakeholders, investors, and existing and prospective customers to evaluate your organization’s sustainability efforts.
The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are internationally recognized, respected tools worth integrating into your plan. The world’s governments unanimously adopted the SDGs at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development held in New York in September 2015.
The 17 SDGs are as follows:
If you are wondering whether something developed at the global level for a global audience could or should matter to you here in the U.S., make no mistake, we are living and working in a geographic area with a significant international business presence. According to the South Carolina Department of Commerce, “[m]ore than 1,200 operations of international firms have found a second home South Carolina, and this number continues to grow. Foreign-affiliated companies (majority-owned) employ more than 145,000 South Carolinians – 7% of the state’s private industry employment.” Between 2011 and 2018, “foreign-based firms announced investments of more than $17 billion” in South Carolina. As stated by Central SC Alliance, the central South Carolina region alone is home to “more than 170 foreign-affiliated facilities including major brands like Michelin, Capgemini, Husqvarna, and Samsung. With our skilled, driven workforce, strategic location near the most productive and efficient seaport in North America, an integrated rail and highway system, pro-business regulatory environment, and affordable energy costs, we’re the place global business comes to flourish.” Consequently, even if your business is based in South Carolina, realistically, you are competing against, sourcing from and/or supplying international businesses that are attentive to and well versed in the SDGs.
Employing the SDGs in your sustainability efforts embodies the oft-used phrase, “think globally, act locally.” The SDGs are broad enough to allow for tailoring to your industry and organization while providing “a set of universal goals that meet the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges facing our world.”
Looking to SDG No. 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, for example, has your organization set renewable energy targets and outlined how you plan to achieve them? Have you researched programs and incentives offered by your utility providers to commercial and industrial customers to identify opportunities for more responsible, conservative, and efficient resource use? Keep in mind that your organization should not only be asking questions like this internally, but also of your external stakeholders, including suppliers and vendors.
One goal of SDG No. 4, Quality Education, is to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations” by the year 2030. Is your organization connecting and collaborating with K-12 schools and institutions of higher education in the area you are located and from which you draw your workforce to establish career opportunities and strengthen professional pipelines to your industry?
Aligning your organization’s efforts with the SDGs does not mean your organization must set out to solve the problems of the world. Rather, as envisioned by SDG No. 17, Partnership for the Goals, employing the SDGs evidences your organization’s heightened awareness and commitment as a corporate citizen of the world to exemplify the type of change that works to sustain valuable economic, natural, and human resources.
Please note, information included from sources are current as of September 8, 2021.