The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development gives business a significant role to play in efforts to achieve the SDGs, based on its ability to invest and innovate. However, for companies to truly contribute, they must move beyond current forms of engagement.
A recent Oxfam paper argues that meaningful engagement by business with the SDGs consists of three steps. First, companies should focus on those areas or goals where their business has the greatest potential impact, either positive or negative. This requires mapping and assessing impact areas to understand the full breadth of connections with the sustainable development agenda. Before any considerations to ‘do good’, businesses should ensure that their current activities do not have a negative impact on sustainable development outcomes and do not hinder the ability of others (governments, other businesses, civil society organizations) to achieve the SDGs.
Second, meaningful engagement by companies requires going beyond cherry-picking SDGs based on win-win opportunities, and instead integrating sustainable development concerns into their core operations. This requires them to look at how their impact is shaped by business functions such as sourcing, employment, tax planning and corporate strategy and to adopt a holistic approach to engagement with the SDGs. This deeper level of engagement requires businesses to raise their level of ambition, identify key areas of tension between commercial practices and the SDGs, and work to find ways to realign them.
Third, we need more transformative ways of thinking about the future role of business in sustainable development. The social, political and ecological crises we are facing require businesses to collectively challenge some of the economic paradigms that have ruled their behaviour for the past few decades and address the structural barriers that prevent more sustainable businesses from flourishing. New business models that to a greater degree align business agendas with societal aims represent another promising avenue to achieve sustainability globally, while leaving no one behind.
Authors: Agarwal, Namit, Gneiting, Uwe, Mhlanga, Ruth
Publication date: 13 Feb 2017