Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Article by: Michael Valdivieso
The answer is an unquestionable yes. People often believe that it is up to only governments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but in fact, cooperation between the public and private sectors is of utmost importance. Governments alone will not be able to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Instead, the responsibility for working towards sustainable development is also shared by corporations, civil society, and many other actors that are related to economic and development activities worldwide.
The role of the private sector in achieving the SDGs and in sustainable development generally is defined by the ability of businesses and other organisations to be drivers of change. If a company decides to stop using single-use plastic, it will generate less waste and provide consumers with a sustainable choice. If a small investment firm decides to diversify its portfolio and focus on impact investment, then projects with positive impacts will have a new source of funding.
There are numerous ways in which businesses and the private sector can promote sustainable development.
According to the World Economic Forum, the private sector is responsible for nearly 90% of the jobs available in the world right now, which means that the private sector has an opportunity to tackle many of the challenges that the world is facing today. For instance, creating jobs has a direct impact on poverty reduction (SDG 1). Additionally, by implementing inclusive hiring practices and promoting diversity in their workplaces, businesses can contribute to the overall reduction of inequalities (SDG 10). Finally, decent jobs allow people to thrive (SDG 8).
SDG 12, related to responsible production and consumption, is a key element when it comes to production patterns. Natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce, and the material footprint of every human being is growing. At the same time, companies are becoming more responsive to sustainability challenges: for example, according to a study done by PwC, over 70% of companies mention the SDGs in their annual corporate report or sustainability report; of these, 23% incorporate key performance indicators and targets related to the SDGs. In terms of actions, businesses can start connecting with each other to use the byproducts created by other businesses as their production materials. Businesses can also focus on developing more responsible and conservation-oriented practices and techniques that have a positive impact on the environment, society, and economy. A great example of responsible production is the Kalundborg Symbiosis.
While some argue that one of the main challenges for the private sector at the moment is a lack of qualified talent, others argue the contrary. In any case, what matters is that businesses can be key drivers of education by investing in educational programmes to develop the skills of their employees and mainstream sustainability into their practices. Another way that the private sector can promote education is by joining and investing in educational institutions to help them design programmes that will train professionals who can respond to the demands of the future.
How can the private sector work to promote the 2030 Agenda?
Integrate sustainability into business practices. Again, the way businesses manufacture their products and deliver their services is key to the impact they have on the environment and in society. Think about how you are hiring people and whom you are hiring. Also, consider alternative sources for your raw materials.
Commit to actions that make a difference. Try to find inefficiencies in your business model. Ask these questions: How can my business be more efficient? How can I produce my products or deliver my services in a greener, more responsible way? Can my business collaborate with other businesses? This way, it is very possible that you will not only make your business more profitable by cutting costs but also reduce any negative environmental impact it has.
Design products and services in a different way. Try to think about the afterlife of your products and how you can recapture them to include them in your production line again. This will inevitably reduce your production costs. See this as an investment. Ask these questions: Are there any products that can be delivered as services? What type of waste or impact are my products creating? Is there a way to reduce this?
Collaborate with others locally and globally. Businesses can come together and start working towards common objectives. Join local Chambers of Commerce and participate in entrepreneurship conferences to get to know new players in the system and find areas of convergence. Try to find opportunities in the ways both your business and other actors are producing.
Measure and share. Measuring your impact is important, but what is more important is sharing good practices with other actors in the system. It is crucial that businesses spread the word with other businesses and that they help shift consumer preferences towards more responsible products and services.
The private sector should see all of these changes as an investment in the future. With no natural resources, there will be no raw materials to work with. Without skilled workers, there will be no innovation or capability to be more productive. It is an investment because it is estimated that implementing sustainable business models to achieve the SDGs will create opportunities for businesses worth approximately $12 trillion US.