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From Addis Ababa: Sustainable Development Goals Within Reach

Words by 3p Contributor
Leadership & Transparency
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By Teresa Fogelberg

This is an exciting year for sustainability policy across the globe. 2015 will see the creation of the U.S. government’s National Action Plan for Responsible Business Conduct, as well as Chile introducing a reporting requirement for large companies, a step the EU took last year. This is also the year of international sustainability summits: In September, heads of state will agree on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years, and in December world leaders hope to forge a binding climate deal at COP (aka Conference of Parties) 21.

Most people who stay abreast of sustainability issues are aware of the SDGs and the COP summit, but they may be unaware of the crucially important meeting taking place right now in Ethiopia. The third International Conference on Financing Development has received relatively little attention despite its importance in terms of creating a global funding structure for sustainable development efforts. I’m currently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the conference and have the privilege of speaking about sustainability reporting as an essential tool for enabling financial flows to developing countries, as well as how the reporting process helps companies draw sustainability into core business practices.

I’m hopeful more and more businesses and governments will recognize the following truth: Sustainability reporting is one of the best ways that businesses can demonstrate their commitment advancing sustainable development.

Why do I believe this to be true?

Well, there are two obvious reasons. First, sustainability reporting is a key part of these emerging national policies and international agreements. Currently, 29 national or regional authorities use GRI in their sustainability policies and look to us for guidance as the world’s most trusted and widely used sustainability reporting standards. Second, sustainability reporting helps governments and citizens to get a grip on what businesses are doing, while giving businesses a platform to share progress in a transparent way. A classic win-win.

But the list doesn’t end there.

You may not know them but here are three other reasons why sustainability reporting can play a key role in enabling green growth, for businesses and governments.

1. Transparency builds trust


Building and maintaining trust is essential for businesses and governments. Trust is necessary for well-functioning markets and to legitimize government activities. When stakeholders such as investors, customers, employees or even citizens lose trust, organizations can lose everything.

So, how do stakeholders decide whether an organization can be trusted? They do so based on the information they have at hand. And in this day and age we know that financial information alone isn’t enough. The value of the sustainability reporting process is that it ensures that organizations understand, manage and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and many others. But in order to build trust with all of the groups affected by operations, a multi-stakeholder approach, which brings all stakeholders to the table, is needed.

GRI’s sustainability reporting process incorporates such an approach. This enables engagement with all stakeholders to help identify important issues and support better decision making.

2. Supporting sustainable investment


Governments in the developed world spend billions of dollars each year to promote sustainability and inclusive growth in developing countries. Often this spending is aimed at addressing specific issues such as water use, land use and gender equality. These governments want a tangible indication and confidence that the organizations set to receive development aid are serious about sustainability. I have a simple suggestion: Make sure that those businesses and governmental institutions receiving development aid have, at a minimum, adopted the sustainability reporting process and are making improvements on their impacts.

3. Helping businesses contribute


Finally, here’s a question you may not have considered: How can businesses contribute to national and international goals if they don’t know their impacts?

Well … obviously they can’t.

This is where sustainability reporting also comes into play, helping businesses understand and communicate their impacts on critical issues, and align decision making with policy goals. And at GRI we’re even taking this a step further. We’re working together with WBCSD and the U.N. Global Compact to develop specific guidance for businesses on the SDGs. We’ll be on the ground at both the U.N. Summit on the post-2015 development agenda in September, and COP 21 in December, to talk about SDG reporting and climate change reporting.

And all this week, I am here at the International Conference on Financing Development in Addis Ababa to help place sustainability reporting at the heart of the responsible business conduct agenda.

Image credit: UNECA via Flickr

Teresa Fogelberg is GRI’s Deputy Chief Executive and heads the Government Relations, International Organizations, Development and Advocacy Team, which works to enable smart policy on sustainability around the world. This includes engaging with capital markets, national regulators, governments, the United Nations and other international organizations. GRI is an international independent organization that helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate the impacts of business on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and many others.

3p Contributor

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