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Towards a sustainable economy: The commercial imperative for business to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals

September 2017 – The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a global strategy for achieving economic growth that is consistent with the planet’s carrying capacity, society’s basic needs and priorities, and the capabilities and stability of the economy. In this report, leading companies from the newly formed Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group call for a compelling business narrative and a systemic approach to maximise the chances of delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The report CISL SDG report

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Executive summary

Achieving the SDGs will be both a unique opportunity and a profound challenge. To maximise the chances of delivering the SDGs effectively and efficiently by 2030, a compelling business narrative and a systemic approach are required to help shift current thinking about economic progress towards models that deliver sustainable development. Without this shift, business commitment is unlikely to be sustained and rewarded with commercial success.

Comprehensively assessing business cases across 17 Goals and turning them into a practical and inspiring agenda is challenging for business and individual leaders, but there is an emerging commercial case for moving towards a sustainable economy. This report shows that there are strong indications of robust commercial incentives to see the SDGs succeed, and for business to help deliver them. Not only are there sizeable growth opportunities associated with implementing the SDGs, but failing to do so would undermine business continuity and stability.

Given the significant interdependencies between the SDGs, and their scale and urgency, cherry-picking the SDGs that have the easiest business case would be insufficient and potentially counterproductive. A more holistic approach is needed, whereby the SDGs are presented as a vision for the future of business in society that is capable of: inspiring interest and creativity, identifying opportunities for future growth, and framing strategy for difficult trade-offs and problem solving. Companies will have to focus on a systems approach to actively help ‘rewire’ the operating context.

Citing this report

Please refer to this business briefing as: University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). (2017). Towards a sustainable economy: The commercial imperative for business to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Cambridge, UK: the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.


About the Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group

Achieving the SDGs is imperative for business growth, continuity and stability. The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) convened the Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group to explore key questions relating to the role of business in delivering the SDGs. The select group of leading practitioners represents forward-looking companies from a broad range of sectors, including Marks & Spencer, Jaguar Land Rover, Hammerson plc, Tetra Pak, Novo Nordisk and Keller plc.

The Inquiry Group aims to support the delivery of the Rewiring the Economy plan by exploring key questions relating to the role of business in delivering the SDGs. The work of the group is aligned with SDG 17 to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development”.

 

Call to action

The report identifies eight business-led approaches that have the potential to promote systemic change. It is intended to encourage business leaders to examine their own case and capabilities for change, and to engage effectively, and collaboratively, with the SDGs.

The Inquiry Group is now exploring the next steps for the project. This could include establishing a business group to foster collective action and engagement towards delivering the SDGs, or the formation of SDG100, an international network of companies committed to promoting a sustainable economy that is capable of delivering the SDGs.

If you are interested in participating in the next phase of this project please .

 

Webinar, Friday 22 September, 14:00–15:00 BST

Report contributors Aris Vrettos (CISL), Susanne Stormer (Novo Nordisk), Munish Datta (Marks and Spencer) and Mario Abreu (Tetra Pak) shared their insights and explored further questions on the emerging commercial case for delivering the SDGs. 

Watch the webinar

 

 

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Published: September 2017

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Watch the webinar

 

Webinar: Contributors from CISL, Novo Nordisk, Marks and Spencer and Tetra Pak share their insights on the commercial case for delivering the SDGs. 

Author and acknowledgments

This business briefing was authored on behalf of the Rewiring the Economy Inquiry Group members by an editorial team chaired by Aris Vrettos, and received support from Joanna Gaches, James Beresford, James Cole and Andrew Raingold. Further input was provided by Lindsay Hooper, Eliot Whittington and Jake Reynolds. Additional research support was provided by Fenna Blomsa, Beverley Cornaby and Emma Brock. Group members: Anna Swaithes, Ian Ellison, Louise Ellison, Mario Abreu, Michael Sinclair-Williams, Munish Datta, Susanne Stormer and  Anne Gadegaard. The editorial team wishes to thank the members for their significant contributions and guidance.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of their companies, CISL, the wider University of Cambridge or clients.