How business can lead from the front to achieve the SDGs

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission has been set up to articulate the compelling economic case for business to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. Clare Oh describes its origins and bold ambition to capture the imagination of business leaders globally.

There are two sides to every coin, and the Paris Agreement is certainly a case in point. On one side of the argument are the critics who believe the Agreement has no value because it is not legally binding and who think its emission reduction targets are a case of “too little, too late.” On the other side are those who have hailed it as the “best outcome” and a “turning point” for realising a low-carbon future.

As far as international agreements go, Paris has shown quite impressively that the global community can still reach a consensus to tackle one of the most urgent issues of our time. Success in Paris was the result of many factors, but the presence of global CEOs committing innovation and capital to the cause has been widely described as critical. Without broad business commitment, the Paris Agreement would lack the engine it needs to drive measurable, substantive change.

Similarly, the role of business is also central to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which lay out clear targets for making the world more prosperous and inclusive. And like the Paris Agreement, the SDGs call for broad, global leadership, with business on the frontlines.

The purpose of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission is to make a powerful, evidence-backed case that helps business to mainstream development—through inclusive business models, value creation and innovation—as a transformational social and economic opportunity.

While the Commission’s main focus is to promote sustainable development as an opportunity, it also highlights the systemic risks and costs that businesses face by ignoring this agenda. Such risks include growing competition for rapidly depleting natural resources, as well as social unrest and armed conflict, disrupting markets and supply chains. To prevent these risks, the Commission believes that business needs to lead from the front—a radical departure from “business as usual” to “business as catalyst” of global development.

With the engagement of business leaders, and supported by the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Commission aims to present a united and compelling case for business to take the lead. But to be successful, we will need to capture the imagination of business leaders to understand that sustainable development is one of the greatest economic opportunities of our lifetime, and that the SDGs offer the best roadmap to inclusive economies and expanding markets.

The Commission also recognises that there is a major trust gap today, not least due to growing inequality in many societies. The Commission aims to work in as transparent a way as possible, building support for our findings and ideas through co-development with wider society. The Commission will not shy away from looking at some of the tougher, more contentious topics, such as the role of business in influencing (and hopefully improving) regulation, better ways to create policy predictability, the need to align tax systems with sustainable development, accountability and job creation.

If the Commission is successful, like the Paris Agreement, we will capture the imagination of an unprecedented number of business leaders by showing how they can spark transformational opportunities—including new and expanding markets—if it fully embraces global sustainable development. This is the business-led movement that the Commission hopes to ignite with its work.

Clare Oh is the director of communications at the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development

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