In a world striving for sustainable development, the role of major companies in supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is pivotal.
The United Nations, in 2015, unveiled a set of SDGs designed to make our world a better, safer, and fairer place. It was acknowledged that government support alone was not enough to ensure success; multi-national companies also needed to throw their considerable weight behind the cause.
Many international corporations have taken demonstrable action to support the SDGs through changes to their operations, focusing on having less negative impact on society. However, research suggests that companies need to scale up action into areas where they can contribute to positive change, in particular through innovation and the creation of new business models.
Many major companies embracing the SDGs are still largely focusing on 'avoiding harm' goals: limiting waste, reducing pollution, and not violating human rights. While these are important, they are not enough to make the SDG project successful. Positive contributions that go beyond 'business as usual' also have to be made, such as increasing people's access to health, education, and water and sanitation.
There is a danger of 'SDG washing,' where embracing the SDGs can make companies comfortably lay back and ease down on their efforts instead of pushing towards painful decisions. This phenomenon cannot be prevented by criticizing companies, governments, or civil society for not being serious about their ambitions. Almost all major stakeholders are actually very serious about these ambitions because there is a clear business case in solving poverty (SDG 1), having healthy people (SDG 3), or developing and using sufficient infrastructure (SDG 9).
The vision of a global society for sustainable development encompasses inclusivity, collaboration, and the harnessing of collective knowledge and resources. Governments need to accept that businesses will not automatically sign up for the cross-sector partnerships required to make real progress towards the achievement of the SDGs. Setting up effective partnerships with the right partners requires considerable time and effort from all parties involved.
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