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Dave Armon headshot

Early SDG Adopters Share Successes, Frustration

By Dave Armon

From left: Neil Hawkins of Dow, Gwen Migita of Caesars and Brent Bergeron of Goldcorp

Despite every nation on earth voting to adopt the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals less than three years ago, one early adopter wants more UN support.

“I don’t see a campaign. I see a cacophony of things coming out of the UN,” said Dow Chemical chief sustainability officer Neil Hawkins, an early adopter of the SDGs who implores the UN to use change-management practices to drive rapid action among governments globally.

“I think the UN needs to be in there with them,” said Hawkins of the partnerships between NGOs, government and business necessary to address what he called the “big hairy problems” addressed in the 17 SDGs, adopted by the 193 members of the UN in 2015.

The $20 billion Midland, Michigan, chemicals giant, which became the world’s largest material sciences company after acquiring DuPont, has used the SDGs to drive collaboration on issues impossible to tackle as a single company, said Hawkins, referencing clean water prototypes that need to scale to make significant impact. He made the comments at Globe Forum, a sustainability conference in Vancouver.

Beyond driving partnerships, Dow’s most tangible use of the SDGs involves storytelling, said Hawkins.

“It puts a context around your research programs and your product offerings,” he said, adding that investors, senior leadership, the board of directors and employees are key audiences benefitting from seeing issues like light-weighting of vehicles and food preservation technology through the SDG framework.

For the Vancouver-based mining company Goldcorp, the SDGs allowed EVP Brent Bergeron to ask whether the human aspects of their operations were being considered as much as the environmental. Using the Global Goals as a lens allows the gold producer to emphasize positive impacts to communities where they mine, such as access to employment, upgraded regional infrastructure, and the royalties and taxes paid to municipalities.

With sustainability is now being stressed at all levels of management, including local mine general managers whose bonus compensation is tied to ESG, Goldcorp has benefitted from a faster pace of innovation, including work on mining technology that does not require water, and an all-electric mine that does not rely on diesel engines.

“The pressure to conserve water is going up, not down,” said Bergeron, adding a benefit to the innovation is delivering water savings well ahead of regulators requiring action.

Acting ahead of regulators, with the SDGs as guide, is also being seen in the gaming industry, says Gwen Migita, social impact & inclusion vice president, chief sustainability officer, Caesars Entertainment.

While the Las Vegas-based company has built context-based goals into its business planning for years, including Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions, much of the current SDG work involves the social aspects of operating in a region that hosts 40 million tourists annually.

A coalition that includes competitors and nonprofits is tackling human trafficking, homeless youth, healthcare for first-generation immigrants, long-term mental health care and other issues seemingly far afield from running casinos.

“It's not just about doing the right thing,” said Migita, who sees benefits to the business including a better pipeline of recruits to work for Caesars’ 14 brands and 400 operations, some of which are in states far more conservative than Nevada and more likely to enact regulations if industry does not act first.

Dave Armon is CMO, 3BL Media, and President, Corporate Responsibility Association + CR Magazine

Photo: Dave Armon


Dave Armon headshot

Dave Armon is the Chief Executive Officer of 3BL Media, which produces the 3BL Forum and ranks the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. A former journalist, Dave spent 20 years in management at PR Newswire, where he was president and COO.  

Read more stories by Dave Armon