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One Year On, the SDGs Are Serious Business

By 3p Contributor

By Teresa Fogelberg

One of the most exciting and exhilarating aspects of my work as Deputy Chief Executive at GRI is getting to participate in events at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. The atmosphere at this week’s U.N. General Assembly was particularly intense given recent bombings in Chelsea, which fortunately left no one dead but caused injuries and led to an increased security presence. Couple this with the fact that leaders and dignitaries from nearly every nation in the world are in the city, and you had the makings of a supercharged event.

I was on hand for the U.N. Private Sector Forum, which brought together world leaders and more than 300 CEOs, to discuss how business can play a role in making the 2030 Development Agenda – specifically the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a reality. The forum was hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose speech was something of a swan song, given his imminent departure from his post in three months. The Secretary-General spoke eloquently about the prominent role businesses must play in helping to advance the sustainable development agenda.

Outside of the General Assembly, the corridors were abuzz with rumors about who will replace Ban Ki-moon. Will it be the dark horse candidate Kristalina Georgieva? Is the U.N. ready for its first female Secretary-General? We’ll have to wait to find out.

In the midst of the gossip and the allure of mingling with heads of state and masters of business, it occurred to me that to an outsider, this might well just look like a glorified beauty pageant – with the rich and famous droning on about world peace. But the U.N. General Assembly was much more than this. It was significant for two reasons.

A fierce sense of urgency

First, no matter who I spoke with at the U.N., I walked away with the feeling that the powers-that-be finally get it. The SDGs could be our last chance to save ourselves, our children and their children. We are destroying the planet and human society by exhausting our resources. We have between now and 2030 to change that. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of this urgency. One year ago, the world agreed on the SDGs. We now have 14 years left to achieve them.

Business takes center stage

The second reason why this year’s U.N. General Assembly is important is the fact that now we have concrete action by businesses that are engaging with and working towards the achievement of the SDGs. I can’t overstate how crucial it is that the private sector make positive contributions to the global goals. Simply put, we will not achieve the SDGs without businesses being on board.

But this doesn’t mean there is no work left to be done. There are still thousands of businesses out there that need to play a role in the SDGs, but have no idea how they can do so. And that’s why I was at the U.N.

For all those businesses I have one message: “Sustainability reporting is the first step you can take to play a role in helping us achieve the SDGs.”

Why sustainability reporting is important in the context of the SDGs

Sustainability reporting is the way businesses can demonstrate that they are measuring and managing performance on the SDGs. Through reporting, businesses can show their contributions to the global goals.

But what’s missing is a clear global system for reporting on the SDGs.

And that’s exactly what we are fixing now. I was proud to be invited to launch the new partnership between GRI and the U.N. Global Compact, called SDG Leadership through Reporting. This initiative will provide businesses with very practical advice on how to report on the SDGs, by using the GRI’s reporting framework and the Ten Principles of the U.N. Global Compact, the world’s leaders in corporate sustainability. This collaboration is timely given the confusion in the market around the multitude of new reporting techniques, tools and services that have recently been released in recent years.

In launching this new initiative, we hope to further align, and possibly even integrate, our respective frameworks, while increasing the quality of corporate reporting based on both the Ten Principles and the SDGs.

And this is not hot air, puffed out into the world only to dissipate after a few weeks or months. This partnership is a watershed event in the field of responsible business conduct. Both GRI and the U.N. Global Compact are making a public commitment to serve the global business community with four concrete ambitions: making reporting on the SDGs more relevant (by developing a list of indicators businesses can use to report against the SDGs), easier to understand (by providing technical explanations of how to conduct SDG-reporting in practice), more simple to execute (by fully integrating the SDGs into both GRI & UNGC’s reporting frameworks), and more accessible to all users and audiences.

On top of all this, GRI and the U.N. Global Compact plan to make reporting more relevant for investors; and we will focus specifically on facilitating SDG-reporting by small and medium-size enterprises.

With all of this in mind, I left the U.N. Private Sector Forum with a smile on my face. There’s still so much left to do but there can be no doubt that the SDGs have become serious business.

Image credit: Flickr/dslrnovice

Teresa Fogelberg is Deputy Chief Executive of GRI.

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