Business As a Force for Good

The idea of business as an agent of change and a purveyor of positive values is gaining traction and legitimacy around the world. With a growing number of companies taking steps to be more responsible in how they treat employees, communities and the planet, we are seeing business emerge as a real player and solution-provider in the quest to put our world on a better course.

This trend is reflected in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- specifically in SDG 12, calling on business to adopt sustainable practices and integrate sustainability into their reporting cycles. The fact is that business action will be key to the success of each SDG. Responsible business operations, new business models, investment, innovation and collaboration are all part of the solution.

And business has good reason to wake up to the new global-sustainability agenda to be adopted by all 193 Member States at the United Nations on September 25.

The case is clear for business globally to get involved. For companies, successful implementation of the SDGs will strengthen the enabling environment for doing business and building markets around the world. Even the most principled and best-managed companies are challenged to thrive in communities marked by instability, to find skilled labour where adequate education is lacking, or to withstand natural disasters stemming from climate change.

The SDGs can provide inspiration and direction for companies to turn business risks into opportunities. With trillions of dollars in public and private funds to be redirected toward achieving the SDGs, there is an enormous opportunity for responsible companies to successfully deliver solutions and grow markets in the coming years.

Enlisting business support

The global goals provide a powerful aspiration for improving our world -- laying out a path over the next 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. We are all in agreement on where we collectively need to go -- with governments involving business, civil society and citizens in the process from the outset.

While the scale and scope of the global ambition laid out in the SDGs is unprecedented, the fundamental ways in which business can contribute remain unchanged. Companies -- from all regions, sizes and sectors -- can help to achieve the SDGs, first by ensuring that they are doing business responsibly and then by seizing opportunities to solve societal challenges through business innovation and collaboration.

In short, companies must first not make our world's problems worse before they try to help make them better.

This means operating in ways that, at a minimum, meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. It means that companies must enact the same values and principles wherever they have a presence, and realize that good practices in one area do not offset harm in another.

Through the United Nations Global Compact, we now have more than 8,000 companies in more than 160 countries committed to doing business more responsibly. A truly global movement is underway. Now, imagine if more companies everywhere took fundamental steps like respecting the rights of employees, providing decent work and pay, not polluting our land, sea and air, and not engaging in bribery. We would be much further on the way to reaching the world we want.

Of course, there is a world of opportunity once companies have taken care of their basic responsibilities. We see companies around the world thinking about how to use their core business strengths to tap into new markets and develop solutions to long-standing challenges related to health, poverty, sanitation, energy access, and many other areas.

Business as a force for good

The SDGs provide a clear, common aspiration that all companies can mobilize around -- allowing business to align their own sustainability goals with goals for the broader society.

For business, this will mean setting ambitious corporate goals inspired by the SDGs, which can stimulate innovation, investments, positive engagement and, ultimately, performance. For example, leading companies are already setting science-based targets, defined by what the external world requires, rather than by what seems easily achievable.

Effectively incorporating sustainability into core business models and strategies requires top-level commitment by management and the Board. Transparency and creating accountability across the organization are also essential.

Working to address the most challenging issues of our time is no longer just the "right thing to do." Employees, customers and investors increasingly demand that business proactively promotes environmental, social and governance practices across their operations and supply chain -- for their bottom lines as much as for the greater good.

Responsible companies are responding to the call, showing that principled business, combined with innovation and collaboration, can bring about powerful changes in markets and societies.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 12.

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