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How Businesses Can Help to Achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals

Infants born today are inheriting a world that is rapidly becoming uninhabitable. New research shows that by the time a child born today is in their seventies, the world will be four degrees warmer, causing widespread crop failures, unprecedented spread of disease, extreme and deadly weather patterns, and worsening air pollution—which is already responsible for 7 million premature deaths annually. The same research finds that the biggest impact of these changes will be felt by the world’s poorest children.

Sustainable Development For Bleak Prospects

There is an upshot to this bleak news, however, which is that this future can still be avoided. In 2015, the international community put their heads together to create an unprecedented platform for change—not just to combat climate change and environmental degradation but the related scourges of poverty, conflict, and inequality. They landed on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 commitments to make the world a better place that were adopted by all United Nation’s member states. The goals range from zero hunger (Goal 2), to affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), to industry innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9), to climate action (Goal 13).

Private Sector Key for Sustainability

One key to this global compact, however, is less well known: the private sector will be instrumental to its success—and to averting international disaster. Said in another way, sustainable business may be the key to ensuring that the planet is habitable and just for decades to come.

“The cost of inaction is becoming ever clearer,” said Peter Bakker, President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development at a recent sustainable business conference, explaining why businesses should be integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into their work.

The Business Case for the SDGs

Massive opportunities will be created because all the systems in the world will transform: new business models, new innovations, there’s plenty of value to be created.”

Peter Bakker, President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development

In fact, the Better Business Better World report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission found that achieving the global goals in just four economic systems could unlock $12 trillion in business savings and revenue by 2030— a number, the report finds, that could ultimately triple. Moreover, this work could create 380 million new jobs by the same year. Another report, this one by the McKinsey Global Institute, found that advancing women’s equality alone (Goal 5) could add $12 trillion to global growth.

It’s why a growing number of companies around the world are choosing to integrate the SDGs into their work. In fact, over 72% of businesses have mentioned the SDGs in their corporate publications based on a recent study by PwC. Yet only about a third of those companies mention the SDGs in relation to their business strategy.

Building and Construction for Green Growth

The opportunities are particularly abundant in the building and construction sector, with the Better Business Better World report pointing out energy-efficient buildings, office sharing, and durable and modular buildings are some of the biggest market opportunities.

Over the last decades, the innovative island state of Singapore has been a poster example of how sustainable construction and infrastructure can dramatically improve urban landscapes to meet and exceed the SDGs.

When Singapore gained independence in 1965, the Southeast Asian nation was full of slums, congestion, and open sewers. In just several decades, smart construction and urban design strategies made this city-state the world’s greenest urban area. Since 2008, green buildings have been mandatory: Construction companies have been building nothing else.

Singapore’s nothing-but-green policy doesn’t only make the island a more pleasant place to be in; it unleashes unprecedented opportunities for economic growth and social development.

Commitment to sustainability is good for the bottom line of the companies too: There’s overwhelming evidence that sustainable practices are more profitable in the long run. Especially in a sector which has to have such a long-term vision like construction, the financial returns of sustainability are even more outstanding.

Corporate Decisions to Set to Shape the Future

Each of these examples paints a picture of cooperation: For businesses to truly succeed, they must invest in sustainable development and for the Sustainable Development Goals to succeed, business will be the lynchpin of success. They are also proof that investing in the future has an immediate return.

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