SDGs as Instrument for Business Integration

Practical examples from Dow Chemical and Novozymes
SDGs as Instrument for Business Integration SDGs as Instrument for Business Integration
Publ. date 15 Dec 2015
Last year, the United Nations and its member countries agreed upon a new development agenda, including 17 goals and 169 targets. A recent study by the Global Opportunity Network found that 32 percent of CEOs surveyed were aware of the SDGs, and 23 percent said that they were fully aware and are planning a response. What about the others?

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The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) intend to free the world from hunger, poverty, and diseases, as well as to bring solutions for water, sanitation, energy, and climate change challenges, by the year 2030.

"The SDGs provide inspiration for turning today’s risks into possibilities – and profit. Sustainable cities, climate-smart agriculture, clean energy, better health for all – these and many other areas demand the innovation and dynamism of the private sector working in partnership with governments, communities and organizations like the United Nations."
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon


In order to reach these objectives, business will have to pull its weight. A study conducted by GlobeScan and BSR, published in September 2015, revealed that companies today are experiencing greater integration of sustainability into the business, due to increased buy-in from leaders. Additionally, increased engagement from leadership indicates that corporate sustainability is merely driven by internal factors than external factors. However, when it comes to the SDGs, only 33% is planning to integrate them into their own corporate sustainability performance targets.

This finding might indicate that the large majority of companies either don’t see how integrating the SDGs in their existing approach could work or frame it as another check-in-the-box exercise which does not add value to their business. The Dow Chemical Company and Novozymes are positive examples of companies that are actively working on contributing to achieving the SDGs by choosing a proactive approach, and are linking their sustainability goals to the UN-agenda.

Dow Chemical: Demonstrating that doing well by doing good works in practice

Dow Chemical is redefining the role of business in society. By 2025, it plans to have helped to lead the transition to a sustainable planet and society: “Over the next decade, Dow will continue to reduce its operational footprint, deliver ever-increasing value to customers and society through its handprint of products and solutions, and develop and deliver a blueprint for a sustainable planet and society”.

Dow’s recently developed 2025 Sustainability Goals are a continuation of the company’s 2015 Sustainability Goals, which have provided a roadmap for the company since their introduction in 2006. To achieve the objectives, Dow has to meet three criteria: unlocking the potential of people and science, valuing nature, and building courageous coalitions. By mapping the SDGs on its seven 2025 goals, Dow ensured that sustainable development is fully integrated in the corporate strategy. This demonstrates that alignment between societal and corporate goals is conceivable.

Novozymes: New opportunities for impact-oriented business

As part of Novozymes’ new strategy of partnering for impact, the company aims to contribute to the SDGs by co-founding DIVA. The purpose of DIVA, a not-for-profit incubator, is to address the SDGs through corporate impact venturing, and help to make this a mainstream activity of large corporations. It was founded together with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Pillsbury. By focusing on early-stage business development, which requires partnerships and innovative models, the incubator will:

  • Lower the hurdle: to find the right mix of capital in order to change the incentive structures for multinational corporations. This will lead to easier engagement in corporate impact ventures.
  • Design for scalability: to attract capital at all stages of maturity by incubating impact ventures by means of venture structures and developing coalitions.
  • Establish a blueprint: strategic cooperation with partners to remove the barriers to impact ventures, leading to an instrumental ecosystem.

DIVA will enable the development of high-impact ventures, the collaboration with existing actors creating the right coalitions around business opportunities. Claus Stig Pedersen, head of corporate sustainability at Novozymes explains: “DIVA takes the company to a new level in the pursuit of business-driven impact. Hopefully, many others will join this path and we will see many more corporate impact ventures delivering on the SDGs.”

Long-term value creation from SDGs

The analogy between the two examples is that strategic partnering is key for the integration of sustainability into a company’s core business. By mapping the SDGs to the company’s materialities, they are assessed on their importance towards stakeholders and on their business impact. This implies that a company does not need to have initiatives in place that address all 17 SDGs, but rather focus on the SDGs that are closely aligned to the issues identified in their materiality assessment. In other words, the SDGs are used as a tool for intensification of a company’s current focus issues, instead of recognizing them as another add-on or check-in-the-box exercise. This will eventually lead to long-term sustainable value creation, for both the business and society.

UN Global Compact has developed an SDG Industry Matrix for several industries showcasing industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action related to the SDGs. An example from the Food, Beverage & Consumer Goods sector is available in the download section of this article.

Looking for an integrated sustainability approach?

With our process approach GLOBE-US, Finch & Beak has supported companies throughout Europe in the process of developing an integrated sustainability framework, resulting in societal and financial positive impact. If your company is looking for a measurable approach aligned with external standards and targets please do not hesitate to contact Josée van der Hoek, Founding Partner, at josee@finchandbeak.com or +31 6 28 02 18 80. 

Image source: The Official CTBTO Photostream, Flickr 

About Bas Nuijten

Sustainability professional with the aim to help organizations to continuously improve their sustainability strategies. | 
bas@finchandbeak.com

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