Fine tuning your strategy with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

On September 25th 2015, the Global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was officially adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Since then, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become especially ‘hot’ in sustainability world and with policy makers. As these goals define global priorities and aspirations for 2030, they will definitely influence future regulations. But, what is actually behind these goals? What is expected from the private sector? How, as a private organisation, can you implement and work with these globally accepted goals? And more importantly, how will results be measured and achieved?

With a set of 17 SDGs and 169 associated targets, the SDGs define global priorities and aspirations for the year 2030. Unlike the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which mainly focused on developing countries, the SDGs are relevant for any organisation, in any sector. The first 15 goals relate to the well-known triple P: people (social), planet (ecological) and profit (economic). However the last two goals go a step further and relate to the aspects of peace and partnerships.

The  United Nation’s 193 member states which have ratified this Sustainable Development agenda are now under pressure to set new regulations and clear actions. However, it is not yet clear what regulations our governments (specifically in the Benelux) will implement to achieve these goals. This raises the question of how your organisation can stay ahead (of any regulations) and work towards these globally accepted goals. Below we have listed 3 steps which will help you implement the SDGs in your organisation.

Step 1. Value creation and impact analysis

The first step is to understand the organisation’s impact on society and the environment. This is not a new approach as such, as a lot of organisations are already embracing this and take the whole value chain into consideration while mapping their value creation. Nevertheless, this approach is key in order to identify the right and relevant sustainable goals on which to focus. In essence, if an organisation has insight into its inputs and can clearly describe its business activities and the unique properties of its operations, then the outputs, outcomes and the implicit positive and negative impacts will follow naturally. More information on value creation can be found in one of our previous blogs – October 6th.

Step 2. Identify the right goals

Once the impacts have been identified, the relevant SDGs can be chosen. When your organisation selects the SDG, the number of goals should not be leading. Specifically, goals should be selected based on their relevance for your operations and its activities. The SDG Industry Matrices[1] from the United Nation Global Compact can serve as a guide. They provide industry specific information and best practice examples such as AbInbev, Heineken, Unilever and Rabobank.

Not surprisingly, companies that have set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) can align their strategy more naturally to the SDGs. This is, for example, the case with Philips[2]. Its BHAG is to improve the lives of 3 billion people a year by 2025 and this links directly to SDG number 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Setting a BHAG can help organisations structuring their ambitions and push them to translate a set of results into concrete impacts on society.

Step 3. Set the right indicators and measure the results

The most important and challenging part is to measure the results of the chosen SDGs. Measurement should be done with a selection of KPIs.

Although Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators provide a first drafted set of indicators for each of the 169 targets[3], it may not be very helpful as these KPIs are related to the global goals. We therefore see the importance of linking the chosen SDGs to the current organisation’s strategy and objectives. A useful tool for this has been developed by SDG Compass[4], which links all 169 targets with indicators from internationally recognised standards such as GRI G4 and the CDP Benchmark.

A big challenge still remains to realistically translate and account for an organisation’s results against the SDGs targets and goals. This challenge relates directly to the current trend of monetarisation and lifecycle assessments as it requires the quantitative translation of achievements into more understandable and comparable metrics. The Danish chemical company Novozyme has already made some steps in this area by starting to assess the impacts of its products and solutions against the first 15 SDGs[5].

Go for it

The SDGs came right on time. Organisations are looking for cohesion and are becoming more willing to incorporate the impacts of their initiatives and activities on society and the environment. Implementation of the SDGs may require your organisation to address its value creation model or to start the journey toward monetarisation. Either way, this transformation will definitely help your organisation to stay ahead of upcoming regulations. So let’s use these newly framed goals to fine tune and improve your strategy!

Nick de Ruiter is a partner at Sustainalize. He is a specialist in CSR strategy setting and performance monitoring.

Lola Debersaques is a consultant at Sustainalize for the Belgian market.
She is a specialist in CSR strategy setting, performance monitoring and reporting.