Business and the Sustainable Development Goals

Based on SDG Compass guide, we provide a short summary of the first steps companies must take to align the SDGs with their business

More than 150 world leaders will attend the Sustainable Development Summit to formally adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike the Millennium Development Goals which preceded them, the SDGs will focus on sustainability and will afford the private sector a more pivotal role.

The United Nations (UN) acknowledges the power of enterprises to transform, as they are the world's leading source of economic activity, and it is up to the private sector to spearhead the improvements in people's standard of living all over the world.

United Nations, New York

SDG Compass—a joint project of the Global Compact, WBCSD and Global Reporting Initiative—explains how the SDGs affect companies, and offers tools and knowledge to put sustainability at the heart of their businesses. Based on this guide, we provide a short summary of the first steps companies must take to align these goals with their business:

Understand the goals

In total, there are 17 goals and 169 targets that seek to encompass the full breadth of global development. To help understand them, we have classified them into four groups:

  1. Poverty, hunger, social development, dignity and basic services: Goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
  2. Growth and economic inequality; production and consumption models: Goals 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.
  3. Climate change and environmental protection: Goals 12, 13 and 14.
  4. Justice, partnership and collaboration of the global community. Goals 15, 16 and 17.

Assess the SDGs and define priorities

By assessing each goal and its potential impact, many enterprises will detect responsibilities linked directly or indirectly to their activity. Evidently, each company's priorities will best match a particular set of goals. However, those goals for which companies do not see a link to their business represent a chance to consider other market opportunities.

Establish and comply with the goals

As occurs with strategic sustainability plans in the private sector, the SDGs define work to be carried out over the long term, specifically over a maximum time frame of 15 years. Companies will have the chance to align their own individual objectives with this framework for sustainable development, which has been proposed by the UN and accepted internationally.

The SDGs will set the agenda for global development. Achieving the goals will enhance companies' reputations by evidencing their leadership in important sustainability matters.

Communicate and inform

The UN is conducting a campaign to divulge and disseminate the SDGs on a mass scale. In fact, once the goals have been approved, it will maintain the communication initiative so as not to lose momentum, keeping attention focused for another fifteen years.

International recognition of the SDGs will encourage enterprises to report their sustainable development performance using a common language. Hence, it will be easier for the private sector to communicate with civil society and other stakeholders.