Novozymes believes they are the first company to craft a new corporate strategy based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Claus Stig Pedersen, head of corporate sustainability at Novozymes explains the background to their approach and what they’ve learned so far.
Novozymes is the world’s largest industrial biotechnology company with 6,500 people around the globe – and 700 technologies present in some 40 different industries across 140 countries.
We research, develop, and manufacture industrial enzymes and microorganisms. Enzymes are proteins, and in nature they spark biochemical reactions in all living organisms. It is enzymes that convert the food in our stomachs to energy and turn the falling leaves in the forest to compost.
Novozymes finds enzymes in nature and optimises them for use in industry. In industry, enzymes replace harsh chemicals and accelerate production processes. They help customers make more from less, while saving energy and generating less waste. In 2015, our customers reduced their CO2 emissions by 60 million tons through the application of Novozymes’ technologies – equivalent to taking 25 million cars off the road. Given this backdrop, Novozymes has very strong reasons to integrate sustainability principals into our operations. Sustainability is a core reason for our company’s existence.
According to Harvard Business School (PDF), we were the first company to undertake integrated reporting – and most recently we believe we have also become the first to craft a new corporate strategy based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The shift in the role of businesses
We are currently witnessing a truly fascinating global shift in the role of businesses. A realisation that some of the world’s most pressing challenges — climate change, dwindling natural resources, rising population — also represent some of our biggest future business opportunities. When the SDGs were adopted in September 2015, we had long – since Rio+20 in 2012 – been working on ways to integrate them into Novozymes’ business.
It is clear that the private sector plays a key role and bears a big responsibility to drive the global sustainability agenda. The SDGs point towards the many opportunities for companies that spring from this agenda. They point companies in the right direction to deliver solutions that contribute to sustainable growth. Seen in this way, they are a trillion-dollar business opportunity for the companies that get it right.
How are we working with the SDGs?
While our solutions are microscopic, we believe they can have a big impact and help address some of the major challenges the world is facing.
The SDGs have guided Novozymes’ own long-term targets for fulfilling the company’s stated purpose of finding biological answers for better lives in a growing world. Among those targets is an ambition to reach six billion people with our biological solutions, deliver 10 transformative innovations, catalyse five global partnerships for change, and save 100 million tons of CO2 through the use of our products – all by 2020. This is our interpretation of where we can make a difference in the world.
In addition to corporate strategy, we are developing a way to assess our pipeline of innovations and partnership opportunities using factors that include their potential contribution to the SDGs. By understanding the societal contributions of our technologies, we have developed a new lens through which to view business development activities.
This way of working is not entirely new for us; environmental and social issues have long been a consideration when we set priorities. We have many years of experience with Life Cycle Assessments, which have successfully been used to guide our research and measure the effect of our biological solutions on the environment. Our technology puts us in a good spot to help achieve specific SDGs, particularly those relating to food security, sustainable agriculture and energy supply.
Attracting the right partners
Throughout our work, we aim to fulfil our purpose by working together with partners who are also aspiring to a more sustainable world. The SDGs inspire us, help prioritise our activities, help open doors at high political levels and attract the right partners.
When we work with our commercial partners, the products we develop together can save up to 100 times the amount of C02 that went into producing them.
And when our partners in government create the right overall framework, and set the level of ambition, it allows us and others in the private sector to invest and innovate in these types of solutions, contributing to shared prosperity.
Managing the future with the SDGs
Businesses like Novozymes do not need to wait for governmental conditions in order to get started with integrating the SDGs into how we understand our business. Getting on with this work now enables us to better deal with any potential future issues such as tougher environmental regulations, a price on carbon emissions, or the rising cost of natural resources such as water.
Because we know these factors will impact our business environment in the future, we remain convinced that by considering them proactively, Novozymes’ business – and progress towards achieving the SDGs – will go farther and become stronger. As such, the SDGs allow us become better able to manage our own future. Ultimately, they can help us prosper.