Sustainability can be a good business case

This piece is co-written by Camilla Brückner, Director, UNDP Nordic

In a few days time, the UN General Assembly will meet to discuss the financing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is no doubt that this is a tremendous challenge – perhaps even bigger than when the whole world - 193 nations – originally agreed on the SDG’s in 2015.

However, it might not be as big a challenge as it seems.

In addition to helping create a better and more just world, there is a clear business case for companies to align their vision and practice with the sustainable development goals. In January this year, the UN’s Business and Sustainable Development Commission specified in the report ‘Better business, better world’ that the SDGs constitute a market worth potentially $US 12 trillion by 2030.

All over the world clients and companies are increasingly demanding products and services that are produced in a sustainable manner. The Nielsen market research company found in 2015 that 66 percent of online consumers surveyed from sixty countries would pay more for products and services provided by companies which are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Therefore, businesses should increasingly listen to consumers to better understand and capture the opportunities available in meeting this demand in a manner that is both profitable and sustainable.

By adopting sustainable practices, companies can also gain a competitive edge, increase their market share and boost stakeholder value. Embracing the values and aspirations of the SDG’s is a way for companies to succeed in the future.

In other words, helping to solve the SDG challenges can be a good business case. Nordic companies are only too aware of this because they have been working with sustainability for decades – in fact, some like Ramboll have already incorporated it into their values and core strategies.

In Denmark, this development was sparked by necessity: the 1970’s oil crisis forced the country to invest in renewable energy, district heating systems and energy efficiency. But Denmark learned to be cost-efficient and that paid off. Exports of green energy technology have grown from less than DKK 10 billion to more than 40 billion annually from 2000 to 2015 – a growth that is more than double the general export.

As both Denmark and Ramboll’s own export cases (from wind foundations in China to climate adaptation in the US) show, Danish-developed solutions can often be used in other parts of the world. If you take local conditions and client’s needs into account, you can adapt technical excellence or a creative, holistic approach to almost anywhere.

There are still some obstacles however. Both rich and the poor countries should make it more attractive for companies, pension funds and foundations to invest in solving the world’s pressing challenges such as universal access to drinking water, waste management systems or renewable energy infrastructure.

But our main message is that the UN General Assembly – and the rest of the world - should not only focus on the SDG’s as a duty, but also because they can make good business sense.

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