Moving from goals to action - how Leadership, Collaboration, and Transparency will help companies drive the SDGs

I recently had the opportunity to represent our SVCF client, Symantec Corporation, at a United Nations Global Compact Network USA symposium hosted by Pfizer in New York City, NY. Sustainability leaders from cross-sector organizations like 3M, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hilton Worldwide, Nestlé, and more came together to discuss how the private sector could work to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 
(Click on image to see all the SDGs)
Also known as the Global Goals, the 17 SDGs address the most important economic, social, environmental, and governance challenges of our time. Built upon the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established in 2000, the new SDGs and the broader sustainability agenda, go much further than the MDGs, addressing the root causes of poverty and the universal need for development that works for all people . 
Rather than dictating changes that must be made in developing countries, the SDGs call upon all countries, governments, civil society, and businesses to come together for the global wellbeing of this generation and those to come. Moreover, this new iteration of goals puts greater emphasis on key issues like the environment, which must be included in a comprehensive global development agenda.
As a result of being more broad and inclusive, more players can take an active role in addressing the SDGs, particularly the business community. In fact, the private sector has a unique advantage to propel many of the goals forward through real actions at the board, employee, supply chain, and stakeholder level. In order to achieve these goals by the target 2030 date, the private sector must commit to implementing SDGs through leadership, collaboration, and transparency.
Incorporating the SDGs into business successfully mandates leadership support at the top-level. One example of note can be found within Ericsson’s Technology for Good Program. As an Information and Community Technology (ICT) company, Ericsson has taken a holistic approach to the SDGs and empowered their leadership to take a stand as company SDG Ambassadors. Comprised of members of Ericsson’s executive team, SDG Ambassadors raise awareness for the goals as well as how ICT is enabling their achievement and how Ericsson is demonstrating this globally. Not only does this ownership provide visibility for the significance of the SDGs, but also creates accountability across the organization. 
As Goal 17 clearly states: “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be realized with a strong commitment to global partnership and cooperation.” To reach this goal, the SDGs identify two specific targets for multi-stakeholder partnerships, which are intended to increase our impact and effectiveness by sharing knowledge and resources across sectors. In line with this goal to “revitalize” global partnerships on development, the business community can play a transformative role when collaborating across sectors on key development initiatives outlined in the SDGs. 
The Wash4Work initiative is one compelling example. Through this initiative, multi-stakeholder partners such as Unilever, WaterAid, the UN Global Compact, and others came together in support of Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. This initiative provides access to clean water and hygiene facilities for employees across supply chains. Ensuring employees have access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) can have positive impacts across the value chain. Such initiatives are a win-win for the business and its workforce: $1 invested in water and sanitation brings an economic return of $4 in increased health and productivity!
In addition to these more engaged partnerships, one tangible way to harness a company’s greatest asset (hint, it’s their employees) to advance SDGs is through IMPACT 2030. With a coalition across corporations, philanthropy, government, the UN, and academia, this program is designed to align companies and their employee volunteer efforts with the SDGs. By harnessing the power of employee volunteers, each IMPACT 2030 partner company has committed to take actions towards one or more of the Global Goals.
Since the SDGs encompass a broad range of targets, it can be overwhelming to align a company’s business or corporate responsibility strategies with each SDG. Before selecting which SDGs to support, companies should clearly examine the unique impacts and risks from their business sector and geographic location when determining the most significant and strategic goals they can address. 
In addition, transparent sustainability reporting for both internal and external stakeholders provides a structure of accountability and trust. An opportunity for growth in this area is enhancing the methods in which companies measure sustainability impacts. Creating relevant sustainable impact measurements will help to direct strategies, inform community and stakeholder dialogues, and guide investor decision-making . 
Created by the GRI, UN Global Compact, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the SDG Compass supports companies on how they can align their strategies to the SDGs along with measuring and managing their contribution. The SDG Compass also includes an Inventory of Business Tools to explore commonly used business tools that may be helpful when assessing an organization’s impact on the SDGs.
Additional resources and inspiration:
Check out the Global Goals website to learn what you can do to take action.
Presented in a series of publications, the SDG Industry Matrix showcases industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action related to the SDGs.   Each matrix highlights bold pursuits and decisions made by diverse companies for each SDG.
The UN Global Compact will recognize the best U.S. business leaders and change-makers demonstrating how business can be a force for good in the upcoming SDG Pioneers program. Stay tuned, as nominees will be selected in late May.
Click here for more attendee takeaways from the 2016 US Global Compact Symposium.
Interested in learning how your company can engage in SDGs? On May 17, 2016, SVCF will host an interactive discussion for companies throughout Silicon Valley on integrating the SDGs into corporate responsibility programming. We look forward to learning how Silicon Valley companies are supporting SDGs and discuss how these goals can be applied locally. Stay tuned for an upcoming recap of the session highlights. 
For more information on how Silicon Valley Community Foundation can support your corporate responsibility work, including conferences relevant to your company, please contact