Open letter to the Prime Minister to support the SDGs

 

UKSSD (UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development) is coordinating an open letter to the Prime Minister in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is an opportunity for your company to publicly show its support for achieving the SDGs in the UK alongside other leading business voices.

 

UKSSD is calling on the UK Government to show active leadership on the implementation of the SDGs both at home and overseas. To this end UKSSD is facilitating an open letter from UK businesses to encourage the Prime Minister to take action on SDGs in the UK.

 

UKSSD will place the letter as a full-page advert in a national broadsheet on Monday 16th January to coincide with the start of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos (17-20th January).

 

The text for the letter can be found below, as can a Q&A providing you with further information. You will see that the letter has been written by and on behalf of UK companies, explaining that the SDGs are important to the future UK economy and asking the PM to commit to delivering the SDGs domestically as well as internationally.

 

The Davos conference is only a few weeks away and UKSSD would like to complete the design of the ad, including the logos of participating companies, before Christmas. If you would like to support the letter, UKSSD needs your agreement to use your logo, and a copy of the logo itself, by Friday 6th January. Please send your logo to chair@ukssd.co.uk to confirm your involvement.

 

Letter copy

Title: Sustainable development is good for UK business

 

Dear Prime Minister,

 

As a group of businesses investing in making our economy fit for the future, we support sustainable development in the UK. This is essential for our long-term prosperity and the wellbeing of generations to come.

 

The UK Government played a leading role in developing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and adopted them just over a year ago. As businesses, we’re ready to take responsibility and work with the Government to make sure the SDGs are delivered in the UK and around the world.

 

Sustainable development will create jobs, increase competitiveness and secure the natural resources our economy relies on.

 

We call on your Government to:

  • Demonstrate to business your commitment to deliver the SDGs in the UK
  • Work with businesses to deliver the SDGs, creating a transparent reporting framework and clear benchmarks
  • Require all departments, not only the Department for International Development, to work with business and other stakeholders to develop an SDG delivery plan

 

Together we can build a fairer, sustainable and more prosperous Britain.

 

Yours sincerely,

[Company logos will appear here]

 

Q&A

What do I need to do now?

If your company would like to support the letter, please confirm as soon as possible and no later than Friday 6th January. Please send your logo to chair@ukssd.co.uk. By this date UKSSD will need a high-resolution eps file of your company logo. If it’s more straightforward for us to deal directly with your brand team, please send us their contact details. UKSSD would also like to hear from you if your company can contribute a small amount to the cost of this project – see more detail below.

 

What is UKSSD (UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development)?

UKSSD is an open platform that supports public, private and voluntary organisations working towards sustainable development in the UK. It’s a multi-stakeholder platform encompassing businesses, NGOs, academics and government at all levels. More information is available at www.ukssd.co.uk

 

What’s the objective of the letter?

UKSSD wants the UK Government to acknowledge the importance of the SDGs and the UK’s role in delivering them both domestically and overseas through its policy decisions. The key message is that sustainable development is essential to the UK’s economic prosperity. The letter is a direct call to the Government from UK businesses.

 

What will the letter look like?

It will be a full-page colour ad with the letter text undersigned by the logos of all the participating companies with UKSSD identified as having coordinated the letter. The design of the ad will echo the UN’s colourful SDG iconography.

 

This is a similar approach to the ‘Business Backs Low Carbon Britain‘ letter that UK businesses placed in the Financial Times in June 2015 and was successful in helping to influence the Government’s approach to the Paris climate conference.

 

Which other companies will be involved?

UKSSD will be approaching companies engaged in many aspects of sustainable development and also those that supported the ‘Business Backs Low Carbon Britain’ letter.

 

What other activities will coincide with the letter?

On the day of publication UKSSD will post a news story on the UKSSD website, including a list of participating companies. UKSSD will also publish a blog that goes into more detail about the importance of the SDGs and their relevance to business.

 

UKSSD will support the letter with a press release, which they hope will generate coverage in the other business media. This will all be amplified through UKSSD’s social media channels. UKSSD will encourage participating companies to share and amplify the letter on their own channels and can offer support for this.

 

The letter itself will be posted to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development. After the Davos conference UKSSD will monitor for the Government’s response and may do some follow-up communications as a result. UKSSD will be printing copies of the letter, including company logos, to distribute at events and for other face-to-face advocacy opportunities in early 2017.

 

The outcome of the letter and next steps on this agenda will be discussed at UKSSD’s conference on 1st March. Businesses are very welcome to send a representative. UKSSD has further activities planned for 2017 to engage political and business audiences on the sustainability agenda, including a joint event between UKSSD and BOND on examples of SDG implementation overseas. Please contact us for more information about any of these activities.

 

Does each company need to pay to be involved?

UKSSD is looking for a wide range of businesses to join this initiative and funding is not a condition of participation. However, as a non-profit organisation, UKSSD would welcome any financial support to help meet our costs. Please let us know if this might be possible.

 

Can we suggest changes to the copy and artwork?

Given that UKSSD is involving a number of companies and have hard deadlines to adhere to, it will not be practical to open the copy and design to amendments. However, you will be given a chance to see the final artwork and you can let us know if you have major concerns that might stand in the way of your participation.

 

Who should I contact if I have any other questions?

The letter is being coordinated by UKSSD. Please direct all queries to Francesca Burton at chair@ukssd.co.uk or 01483 412496.

 

Photograph: Flickr/ Will Newcomb.

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Are cross-sector partnerships a remedy for Brexit?

The trend towards innovative, mutually beneficial partnerships could be the perfect antidote to the Brexit blues.

 

Regardless of the competing viewpoints on whether the long-term impact of Brexit will be positive or negative, both sides of the campaign agreed that there will be short-to-medium-term pain for the UK economy, for anywhere between five and ten years [this is assuming Brexit still goes ahead following the recent High Court ruling that parliament must vote on triggering Article 50]. This will see people losing their jobs, business investment slowing, the value of the pound reducing, and the price of goods and services increasing.  The wider impact will be a reduction in tax revenues for the government and, consequently, more public spending cuts.

 

All this is likely to hit the poorest in the UK the hardest.  

 

An increase in unemployment and living costs, combined with further public spending cuts, will also hit the charity sector as its income reduces, whilst the demand for services is likely to increase.

 

So, how can cross-sector partnerships help? 

 

If the economy is slowing, doesn’t than mean that companies will have less money available to donate to charitable causes?  Indeed, companies that view charitable giving as a purely nice-to-do, philanthropic activity may reduce or stop giving altogether.  This is why the shift away from basic transactional relationships (a one way agreement whereby a company agrees to donate or raise a set amount of money), towards more value-led, mutually beneficial partnerships is exciting and very timely. 

 

This shift had already started happening pre-Brexit, but, as Claudine Blamey, Head of Sustainability and Stewardship, at The Crown Estate highlights:

 

“economic and political anxieties [caused by Brexit] should only reinforce a need for companies to minimise future risk, cut costs and find innovative new ways of doing business.”

 

Some of the most interesting partnerships we have seen developing over the last few years have been around product innovation - partnerships that are centred on the creation of a new product or service to solve an identified social or environmental issue.  Three such partnerships are outlined below. 

 

Vodafone and Garvan Institute of Medical Research

 

Cancer affects one in three people.  Researchers need to crunch huge amounts of data to test hypotheses and derive insights that will help uncover new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.  However, progress is hindered by limited access to supercomputers to help perform the millions of computations required.  To combat this, Vodafone and Garvan Institute of Medical Research have partnered in Australia to develop the Dreamlab app.  The app uses the processing power of idle smartphones (e.g. overnight when people are asleep) to solve a piece of the cancer research puzzle.  If just 1,000 people used the app, cancer puzzles would be solved 30 times faster.  By demonstrating a commitment to tackling this issue, Vodafone is building a connection with the 33% of the population who are affected by cancer. 

 

Barclays, CARE International UK and Plan UK

 

Globally, 2.5 billion people are considered financially excluded, or ‘unbankable’, with no access to financial services, such as savings, bank accounts, or credit.  Since 2009, Barclays have been working with CARE International UK and Plan UK to tackle this issue by taking a savings-led approach, rather than a credit-led approach, to micro finance.  Banking on Change aims to improve the quality of life of the world’s poorest people who are living on less than US$2 a day. It combines the expertise of each partner to give people the opportunity and skills to save and manage their money by setting up informal savings groups.  Having access to these basic services can transform the lives of vulnerable individuals, especially young people.  For Barclays, it’s an opportunity to learn about a new market and introduce the individuals to formal banking services when they are ready.  It's win-win.

 

WWF and LiveWell

 

Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the UK. Additionally, our consumption of meat is unsustainable and having devastating effects on the environment.  To tackle both of these issues, Sodexo have partnered with WWF on their LiveWell programme.  LiveWell is WWF-UK's flagship programme which aims to encourage businesses and policy-makers to facilitate the adoption of diets which are both healthy and sustainable.  Sodexo serves around one million meals every day in schools, hospitals, workplaces, sports stadia, army barracks, and prisons.  Together they developed a set of 10 food principles that are healthy and good for the environment.  Using these principles, the company developed meals under the Green & Lean banner, and started serving these in schools up and down the country. 

 

"Green & Lean is an exciting development for us. We’re finding that consumers are more and more interested in the provenance of their food and want to make ethical, sustainable and healthy choices." - Edwina Hughes, Sodexo UK and Ireland’s corporate responsibility manager.

 

This is another clear example of mutual benefit.  With consumers making buying decisions based on the behaviour of companies and the origins of the products they produce, it’s vital that companies work with experts from the charity sector to legitimise the efforts they are making to have a positive social and environmental impact.

 

So where does this leave us?

 

Brexit is likely to cause widespread instability and an economic slowdown which is likely to hit the poorest hardest.  As demand for charities’ services increases, so does the need for innovative solutions that can help organisations tackle and solve the social and environmental issues we face as a society.  Cross-sector partnerships can be part of the answer.  A partnership based on product innovation allows a company to identify and develop new market opportunities, develop the skills of their employees, and further build their reputation with consumers, whilst helping solve society’s problems.  It really is a win-win scenario.

 

Rick Benfield is founder and CEO of thirdbridge @rick_benfield.

 

Photograph: thirdbridge.

 

 

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A finance sector fit for generation S

Never before has the finance sector been under so much pressure to help deliver a climate-resilient, greener, and more equitable society. 

 

There is so much happening in this space that it’s hard to keep up with the news: green finance is an integral part of the G20 agenda for the first time this year; France became the first country to introduce mandatory climate change-related reporting for institutional investors; the U.S. state of California has required insurance companies to report on holdings in high-risk carbon assets; the revised text of the EU Directive on occupational pension funds (IORP2) now states that environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors need to be taken into account. The list goes on. 

 

These are very positive signs. We need the finance sector onboard if we are to deliver on ambitious global deals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate agreement. Vast sums of capital beyond the reach of public finance are needed in areas such as energy efficiency and low carbon technologies. China alone aims to raise US$1.5 trillion for green projects through to 2020, 85% of this coming from private finance

 

Sustainability represents a significant growth opportunity for those countries, companies and investors that successfully anticipate the products, strategies, and services that the future will demand.  

 

On the other side of the opportunity coin, there is always risk. The biggest of all, in terms of financial value at stake and potential social impacts, is climate change. 

 

Climate change will have major impacts on the availability of resources, the price of energy, the vulnerability of infrastructure and the valuation of companies. Assets can be directly damaged by floods, droughts and severe storms, but investment portfolios can also be harmed indirectly, through weaker growth and lower returns.

 

Changes in policy, technology, and consumer preferences, for instance, can prompt a reassessment of the value of a large range of assets. Some assets can be left ‘stranded’ or worthless in this transition. These can include oil, gas and coal reserve assets that may never be burned, high-carbon industrial installations that may cease to operate prior to the end of their economic cycle, or real estate that will require significant energy efficiency refurbishment. The expected permanent value loss to global assets from climate change has been estimated as EUR3.8 trillion in present value terms – equivalent to the GDP of Japan!

 

It is not altruism. Prudent risk management and capital reallocation are the main forces working together to make the finance sector more sustainable. Worldwide policy actions to green the financial system have more than doubled over the last five years according to a brand new report by the UNEP Inquiry

 

Despite the current momentum, these are still largely localised initiatives and a lot more effort is needed to turn this momentum into a genuine global transformation. 

 

To put things in perspective, just one-fifth of the world’s largest 500 investors are taking tangible action to mitigate their exposure to climate-related risks according to the Asset Owners Disclosure Project. As for green bonds, despite their rapid growth - to US$41.8 billion in 2015 from US$11 billion in 2013 – they still constitute less than 1% of the overall global bond market

 

There is also inconsistent behaviour among investors. Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, issued a report stating that “all investors should incorporate climate change awareness into their investment processes”. This happened less than six months after they voted against a shareholder resolution which sought greater climate change disclosure at ExxonMobil's annual general meeting in May.

 

One force that I believe may tip the scale in favour of a truly sustainable finance sector is the growing influence of the so-called ‘Generation S’. 

 

Last year, Georg Kell, Founder of the United Nations Global Compact, introduced the term to define a set of people, from all age groups and backgrounds, who understand the power of sustainability to create positive change. They are conscious that the decisions they make today affect the quality of life for our children, grandchildren, and all future generations. When making career, investment and consumer choices, these individuals are purpose-driven: they choose companies and investors which combine economic value creation with environmental stewardship, social inclusion and sound ethics.

 

Generation S is not yet a majority, but is a rapidly growing movement that stands a fair chance of bringing about real change. 

 

In the UK, the NGO ShareAction is doing a great job mobilising members of Generation S. Their Pension Power campaign helps people discover how their savings are being invested – whether it’s funding agriculture or arms, renewables or fossil fuels – and gives them the means to engage their pension fund. Another positive example comes from the Netherlands. Dutch pension fund ABP surveyed its beneficiaries and found that they wanted their money to be invested more sustainably. This led the fund to significantly boost their responsible investment activities. 

 

Increasing the level of engagement that asset owners have with their beneficiaries is the first step in rebuilding consumers’ trust in financial services and improving accountability in the investment system as a whole.

 

Policy changes and risk considerations are important drivers of a more sustainable finance sector. However, I believe that a real shift will only fully happen with a big push from society. People like you and I who make decisions every day on what to consume, how to invest, and where to work. 

 

We can all be part of Generation S and help make the finance system a truly sustainable one. There is only one real growth story: a sustainable growth story. So I repeat Georg Kell’s question in his seminal article: are you in?

 

Andrea Marandino is sustainable finance and corporate risk specialist at WWF-UK.

 

Photograph: Flickr/ Moby.

 

 

 
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Healthy diet – healthy planet?

Partnership is very often how we get things done at WWF. We’ve been working to convene influential groups, market leaders, and communities for years, creating household names in certification like the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) to ensure a rise in standards.

 

Our work with businesses is driven by the pressing need for a major shift in how our economy works, whilst retaining an ability to address current and urgent environmental challenges. 

 

One of those challenges relates to the food sector. Why does WWF work on food? It’s the one question I get asked more than any other about my job and it’s a reasonable one; after all most people know WWF as a conservation charity working to protect endangered species such as the panda, which forms our iconic logo.

 

The simple answer is we realise that in order to achieve our conservation aims we need to address the drivers of the habitat loss that is pushing some of our most precious species to the brink of extinction. One of these drivers is food. In fact, some of the greatest challenges facing the natural world in the 21st century are directly related to food and agriculture. For example, much of the deforestation that is happening across large parts of the world is to create more land for growing animal feed, and crops like soya and palm oil which we consume as ingredients in everyday grocery products, while the extraction of water for irrigating these crops is putting huge pressure on our water sources.

 

These issues need to be looked at in a holistic way. We wanted to look at the food we eat and explore how we can encourage people to adapt their diets so that both our health and the environment benefit. One holistic way of doing this is by working in partnership with progressive businesses such as Sodexo.

 

WWF has been working in partnership with Sodexo globally since 2010 and in the UK since 2013. The focus of our work here has been on developing meals that are good for people and the planet. The result is Green & Lean: a range of meals for the independent schools sector that follow ten simple principles that make them more nutritious and better for the environment. In practice this has meant substituting some of the meat, which has a high carbon footprint, with low-carbon, nutritious alternatives such as vegetables and pulses, as well as using wholegrains rather than refined grains, minimising levels of salt and sugar and sourcing certified meat and fish. We piloted ten sustainable meals at eight schools around the turn of the year, replacing almost a tonne of meat with healthy vegetables and pulses in the process, and receiving positive feedback from both students and chefs.

 

So what have we learnt so far? Firstly, that delivering innovative projects such as Green & Lean takes time and effort and inevitably involves taking a few twists and turns along the way. With Sodexo we initially focused on trying to deliver our objective through a range of pre-prepared sandwiches and wraps. It quickly became apparent however that reformulating a packaged product such as a sandwich posed a number of challenges around product integrity, shelf life and consumer acceptability. Hopefully we’ll find solutions to those challenges, but at the time, we’d focused our attention in the wrong place. However, the project was far from a waste of time as it helped establish relationships and build trust between key WWF and Sodexo personnel, and required both of us to see things from the other’s point of view. We’re also more aware of the challenges we face.

 

When working in partnership, trust is a word that crops up again and again. We both have our own organisational priorities but for a partnership to work it’s vital there is mutual trust and that, ultimately, everyone is fully committed to achieving the same end goal. In our case, that goal is to embed a sustainable meals offer within the Sodexo business so that in the long-term it becomes the norm rather than the exception – the difference, if you like, between genuinely transformative change and soft-touch CSR.

 

Sodexo serves in excess of a million meals a day in the UK - in schools, hospitals, workplace canteens, and many other settings - giving them huge influence over the food we, the public, consume. They also know their customers far better than WWF ever could and so with their detailed market insight coupled with our subject matter expertise, together we can deliver a pioneering programme of work far better than by working separately.

 

And if by working in partnership there is extra scrutiny placed on the integrity of our work then we say: bring it on. We’re very clear that businesses should only benefit from the halo effect of working with a trusted brand like WWF if they make good on our joint commitment to deliver meaningful change. Businesses that know their own resources and indeed their very future is also at stake ask us to challenge them.

 

The next phase of the partnership will see Green & Lean meals rolled out to the entire independent schools sector in September with the intention being that sustainable meals will become firmly embedded within the Sodexo business in the years ahead. No doubt there will be more bumps in the road, but I firmly believe that our shared experiences and complementary skills will ensure that, together, we will continue to achieve our goals.

 

Nick Hughes is food sustainability adviser at WWF-UK.

 

Photograph: WWF-UK.

 
 
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