Getting the Private Sector to Buy In: Value Creation Through the SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Businesses and investors that deliver real, measurable impact toward the SDGs deserve to have their contributions recognised.

With a mission to catalyse more ambitious action toward climate security and the Global Goals, the Gold Standard is launching a next-generation standard to enable accurate reporting of a wide range of verified climate and development contributions.

By de-risking investments and enabling project funders to clearly demonstrate their full impact, the new standard is expected to unlock billions of dollars of funding.

It is universally acknowledged that concerted action from big business and other non-state actors is vital if we are serious about achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Take SDG 13 (climate action) for example: even if all governments manage to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) set under the Paris Agreement, the global average temperature will still increase by 3-4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. A far greater increase than the “well below 2°C” goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement and that we need to meet to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Many corporations are starting to show global leadership by stepping up to their role in supporting the SDGs. In fact, a few are going beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR) and incorporating them in their core business strategies. As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, says: “It’s simply not possible to have a strong, functioning business in a world of increasing inequality, poverty and climate change.” Businesses that support sustainable development are ensuring their own survival by helping to secure stable markets and opportunities for future growth, and can profit from the estimated US$12 trillion market opportunity that comes with meeting the SDGs.

From recent sustainability events I have attended, it is clear that businesses are starting to take the SDGs seriously. Yet, it is also clear that many are struggling to find effective ways to measure and report tangible, meaningful impacts towards the SDGs in a language that their key stakeholders can understand. When it comes to climate change mitigation, which is part of SDG 13 (climate action), a company can report clear numbers: the number of tonnes of CO2 emissions they have reduced; the percentage of their carbon footprint they have offset; the percentage of their operations powered by renewable energy. When it comes to the remaining Global Goals, contributions can be harder to measure and report.

Businesses and investors that deliver real, measurable impact toward the SDGs deserve to have their contributions recognised. With a mission to catalyse more ambitious action toward climate security and the Global Goals, the organisation I lead is launching a next-generation standard to enable accurate reporting of a wide range of verified climate and development contributions.

Launched in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs, Gold Standard sets the best practice benchmark for climate initiatives. Every project we certify must have the highest environmental integrity and must contribute towards sustainable development. Historically, we have issued carbon credits for each tonne of CO2 these projects prevent from reaching the atmosphere. While a strong reflection of a project’s climate impact, carbon credits alone do not do justice to the huge amount of added value these projects create.

Gold Standard climate protection projects have been shown to deliver between US$21 and US$177 in additional value toward the SDGs for every tonne of CO2 mitigated. For example, a project that provides women who previously cooked over open fires with cleaner, more efficient cookstoves will not only reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but might also improve health (SDG 3) by reducing the toxic smoke the World Health Organization (WHO) reports contributes to 4.3 million premature deaths a year. By freeing up time and money that would otherwise have been spent collecting or purchasing wood fuel, and creating local jobs in the manufacturing and distribution of cookstoves, projects such as these can also alleviate poverty (SDG 1) and empower women (SDG 5). And, of course, the deforestation prevented can contribute to the conservation of important natural habitats (SDG 15).

Our new standard, Gold Standard for the Global Goals, is designed to quantify, certify and maximise impacts such as these towards climate security and the SDGs. It aims to help the funders of a wide range of interventions – from corporates to impact investors and the traditional investment community to development agencies and multilaterals – get the recognition they deserve by reporting on their impact and the value they create for society.

The standard is also designed to protect businesses against accusations of “green-washing” or, more recently, “SDG-washing.” Through rigorous criteria, stringent safeguards and the use of independent, third-party auditors, we provide funders with the confidence that they are supporting real, verified impacts. We also insist that stakeholders – the people who most understand local risks, opportunities and threats – are involved in the design and implementation of projects to ensure natural resources are protected and local communities benefit as much as possible. Informed by years of experience and the latest research, we have also introduced new safeguards to ensure that gender equality is at the heart of every project we certify – not an add-on.

If the SDGs and Paris Agreement are to be successful, climate action cannot be one-dimensional.

By de-risking investments and enabling project funders to clearly demonstrate their full impact, our new standard is also expected to unlock billions of dollars of funding needed to scale-up clean, green infrastructure and development projects around the globe. Cities emit around 75% of global GHG emissions, yet less than 15% of global climate finance has reached cities. Our Urban Development Standard will help urban developers design and implement best practice projects, and quantify and communicate climate and development impacts, such as cleaner air and improved health, helping attract investment and gain public support.

If the SDGs and Paris Agreement are to be successful, climate action cannot be one-dimensional. Efforts to reduce GHG emissions must be holistic and high-impact, helping the world develop on a sustainable pathway by ensuring good health and nutrition, access to clean energy and water, secure livelihoods and thriving ecosystems. By recognising and rewarding contributions to the SDGs by both those who run and those who finance life-changing projects, we hope to accelerate progress towards creating a more equal, prosperous and climate-secure world.

About Gold Standard

Gold Standard is a standard and certification body that works to catalyse more ambitious action for climate security and sustainable development. Its holistic standard, Gold Standard for the Global Goals, enables activities that protect the climate and empower local communities to quantify, certify and maximise impacts toward climate security and the SDGs.

Gold Standard was established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs as a best practice standard to ensure projects that reduced GHG emissions under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) also delivered on the dual mandate to foster sustainable development. Now with more than 80 NGO supporters and 1400+ projects in over 80 countries, Gold Standard projects have created billions of dollars of shared value from climate and development action worldwide.

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