Sustainable development is homegrown

Integration of SDGs in economies has been estimated to present over US $12 trillion in business opportunities. Net photo.

The global push for a more inclusive model of human development has reached a tipping point with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals, which call on players from public sector, private sector, civil society to collaborate in development, give a glimpse of the  future we all desire– where nobody is left behind in the quest for prosperity and profit doesn’t come at the expense of our common home, the earth.

Today we take a look at the integration of SDGs into organizations’ strategies and operations. According to KPMG 40 per cent of companies worldwide, report on SDGs, Germany, France and United Kingdom leading in this regard. The greatest battle for many organizations, particularly profit-oriented players in the private sector, is how to support sustainable development and simultaneously meet the demands of the shareholder and customers.

Integration of SDGs presents over US $12 trillion in business opportunities. Organizations are sitting on potential business ventures, be it green bonds and untapped renewable energy sources and manufacturing methods for different products, or just sustainable tourism to empower the economic activities for the communities in the locality.  It’s the invention of less evasive methods of mining and extraction, alternative food sources. All the 17 goals hold business potential.

In Africa, while progress is being made the data collection is still low, with only 37.8 per cent of official SDG indicators having data for African countries (UNECA 2017). The standard to reporting on SDGs is yet to be implemented while many organisations do not know where to start.

Many face the challenge of prioritization as well as alignment with organization goals. The key to starting however is majorly tied to management buy in. The C- suite requires a level of understanding of the SDGs to be able to steer organization strategy and goals towards achievement of the goal. It is also important to orchestrate the same to the organization’s culture. The integration then becomes easier as there is support from the top. In Kenya, Safaricom and Kenya Commercial Bank of Kenya are leading companies that have recently aligned the SDG to the business model and taken up sustainability reporting. Several others such as SGS Kenya Limited, Cooperative Bank, Barclays Bank of Kenya, Liquid Telecoms are also on track having developed initial sustainability reports while others refer to it as a shared growth report.  For these two companies the management was actively involved with the adoption of both sustainability reporting and SDG integration to the business.

Prioritizing the SDGs is to evaluate which of the 17 goals and 169 targets make sense from a business stand point and which other SDGs present the opportunity to solve some of the world’s challenges from a human angle.  Integration of SDGs needs to be treated like any other business activity. Industry by industry need to work together to see how best they can partner to accelerate development from a sector point of view. T

The global banking industry, for example, is working together with UNEP FI to develop principles of responsible banking. Kenya Commercial Bank was part of the 26 banks from 5 continents that was part of this ground-breaking initiative to develop the principles of responsible banking. This was brought about by their continued investment in sustainable development. KCB is just one the good examples of the untapped opportunities these goals present.

Looking at what you as a company are doing on the corporate social impacts front and thinking of it in a different way that is sustainable, may it be looking at them in terms of policy angle to ensure that you are making a long-term. For example, it would be looking at a problem and creating products and services around this problem in a way that it will be sustainable for a long period of time and creates development in the society where one operates.

The SDGs present a wide business opportunity for the private sector. Companies need to realize that while their goals are well aligned to the 169 targets they stand a chance to generate additional revenue in long term. SDGs uniqueness is that they stand to involve employees at any level. The key to successful integration is not being too ambitious. While the 17 goals may speak to the business values, there’s always those that apply more than others. Don’t be too ambitious. Its advisable to pick two to three goals as priority and the rest come in as secondary. The initial process should take two to three months, during this period study the targets and give each performance goals.

Alignment with corporate reporting which already exists in many companies can be another approach a company can take when it comes to sustainable development. Many organizations tend to fail to make the connection between the 17 goals. This is mostly steered by lack of company culture tools and strategy.

The tendency to look at the short-term goals as opposed to the long-term growth of the company has been the case for many companies. However, the ones that have integrated the SDGs over the past 2 year are beginning to see new revenue. Revenue comes in very different forms, sometimes its revenue saved from energy conservation to switching to renewable energy.  Problem solving of each SDG presents opportunities for growth. Goal number 17 is about creating partnerships, which means you as company does not have to go into it alone. Theirs is no one entity that has the financial capability to fund all the goals, hence it’s a way of thinking how best can we approach the SDGs and what are the additional non-financial activities can be included to ensure that we are all working towards similar goal.

The slogan leave no one behind is more that than wishful thinking, these goals are in one way or the other tied to each other and this slogan focuses on a wholistic involvement of all stakeholders, government, private sector, NGO’s, civil society and the media to bring in to the table actionable goals so that the SDGs don’t become wishful thinking. This is a language we all can work together to create impact economies.

While organizational action is important, in Africa policy action is also key to steer these goals. As a continent we have a number of goals that are faultlessly aligned to the SDGs.  Kenya’s Medium - term plans, Visions 2030, Uganda’s vision 2040, East Africa Communities integration pillars and African Unions agenda 2063. These goals are all working towards achievement of similar agenda, what is missing then?  It goes without saying that strategic alignment and prioritization of these goals is key, for this to happen there needs to be clear policy change with well laid out targets. Political goodwill, corruption, revenue collection and ability to monitor progress are also key in the country and Africa as a whole, in bridging the policy.

At the end of the day, achieving global sustainable development, boils down to knowing which one of the goals speak to you at a personal level. If the SDGs speak to our hearts, we will be able to drive the integration of these goals in the organizations we work in.

The writer is  an Associate Consultant, focusing on investor relations, sustainability and social media listening.

She has worked on recent assignments across the agriculture, power, mining and consumer goods sectors, as well as conducting extensive research and analysis for public sector clients