Why BASF, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Colgate-Palmolive view the SDGs as an innovation catalyst


In the five years since the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were adopted, many large companies have paid them substantial lip service — declaring support for specific subsets and drawing creative, often detailed maps that demonstrate how certain pieces of the social agenda dovetail with their own larger sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals.

The 2020 reality is that field-level action is lagging. No country is on track to meet the milestones set out by the U.N. at launch, and only 25 percent of companies have set goals that are “sufficiently bold enough” to achieve the 2030 ambitions, said Claire Kells, senior management of corporate engagement with the U.N. Global Compact, during an SDG-themed tutorial two weeks ago at GreenBiz 20.

To put it more specifically, even though almost all CEOs believe the Global Goals (as the SDGs sometimes are known) could present an opportunity for their organizations, only 48 percent actually are doing anything about them, according to a survey published in September by Accenture.

“It’s a real moment to take stock, and say, ‘What more can we do?’” Kells told the standing-room-only audience.

During the World Economic Forum in January, the U.N. Global Compact — self-described as the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative with more than 10,000 signatories — declared the next 10 years as the “Decade of Action” for the SDGs.

To step things up, the organization is mobilizing networks around the world to motivate far more corporate engagement, and multiple at-capacity sessions during GreenBiz 20 were focused on doing just that. It is also preparing a flood of resources to help companies manage that process, including an accelerator program for young entrepreneurs with SDG-related innovation ideas and the newly launched SDG Action Manager, a free web-based tool co-developed by the U.N. Global Compact and B Lab Global that helps sustainability teams track progress toward all 169 of the specific SDG targets more methodically.

The resource is meant to be used alongside a “good materiality analysis,” said Laura Palmeiro, a senior advisor to the U.N. Global Compact, who previously was the sustainability integration director at Danone. “This does not replace a good impact assessment,” she said. (…)

Heather Clancy

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