SDG Business Forum Showcases Business Support for SDGs
Photo by IISD | Lynn Wagner
story highlights

1,500 business leaders and stakeholders registered to attend the second annual Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Business Forum.

The Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce said the SDGs should be called “the BDGs – the Business Development Goals” within the business community, as they provide incredible opportunities for business.

18 July 2017: High-level representatives of governments, private sector, international organizations, and civil society discussed the role of business in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), during the second annual SDG Business Forum. Participants stressed the need for: developing a clear mechanism for monitoring business investment in the SDGs; designing projects that incentivize private investments by offering enticing returns on investment; and increasing awareness of the SDGs in the private sector.

The event took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 18 July 2017, during the ministerial segment of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The Forum was co-organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), and the UN Global Compact, in collaboration with the Global Business Alliance for 2030.

The SDG Business Forum showcased business engagement on the six SDGs reviewed by the HLPF this year: SDG 1 (no poverty); SDG 2 (zero hunger); SDG 3 (good health and well-being); SDG 5 (gender equality); SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure); and SDG 14 (life below water), as well as SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), which is reviewed annually. The Forum also featured individual sessions examining SDG investment, partnerships and monitoring.

ICC Secretary-General, John Danilovich, noted that 1,500 business leaders registered to attend the SDG Business Forum. Noting that the business community has been involved in drafting and supporting the SDGs from the beginning, he said the SDGs should be called “the BDGs – the Business Development Goals” within the business community, as they provide incredible opportunities for business.

UN Global Compact CEO, Lise Kingo, observed that a record number of members of the UN Global Compact local networks are accompanying the Member States’ delegations at this year’s HLPF. She said the UN Global Compact is currently undertaking a comprehensive analysis of how business can set business targets in support of the SDGs, and will launch a related framework in September.

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) President, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, said the HLPF Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) are a tool for monitoring SDG implementation as well as for catalyzing better policies and multi-stakeholders partnerships.

Wu Hongbo told business leaders, “You are at the frontline of action in implementing the SDGs.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said the fact that the SDG Business Forum takes place in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) hall shows “the dramatic surge in interest for business support for the SDGs.” “You are at the frontline of action in implementing the SDGs,” Hongbo told business leaders.

Arvind Panagariya, National Institution for Transforming India (NITI), said India has put in place a national plan that brought energy to 99% of India’s villages, but it will take until to 2022 to bring energy to all houses. He also highlighted the role of business in education, through the foundations businesses create, which then fund schools.

Bola Adesola, CEO Standard Chartered Bank, Nigeria, observed traction for SDGs both at the local and global levels of business. She noted an increased focus in the private sector on running its businesses responsibly, with boards starting to structure business plans on the triple bottom line: people; planet; and profit.

Huguette Labelle, Former Chair, Transparency International, stressed the centrality of SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) to achieving all SDGs. She said the business sector can be a greater source for good by: building transparency and accountability in all aspects of their operations; supporting and promoting governance reforms in all countries; and encouraging open governments.

In a session on ‘Private Sector Investing in the SDGs,’ Kristian Jensen, Minister of Finance, Denmark, said Denmark is shifting its official development assistance (ODA) towards the private sector to advance technology transfer, knowledge sharing and capacity building through Danish companies. He explained that Denmark is leveraging public-private partnerships (PPPs) to scale up efforts and achieve more than would be possible through ODA alone. He added that Denmark is creating a US$1 billion fund for development, through which it aims to leverage an additional US $4-5 billion to: mobilize private capital; de-risk; create jobs in developing countries; and generate return on investment.

Frans Lindelöw, CEO, Skandia, stressed the importance of return on investments for pension funds. He noted that pension funds have the power to influence the markets and push for the 2030 Agenda. He observed that pension funds could be a good partner for infrastructure projects because pension funds look for long-term investments.

Nick Chism, KPMG, highlighted business engagement in infrastructure, saying infrastructure is seen as a mainstream business sector all over the world. He called for mapping the opportunities that the SDGs provide for business. He suggested to then populate that market of opportunities with a transparent pipeline of business bankable projects, which should be long-term and evidence-based to attract investors, including in infrastructure.

Laura Palmeiro, Danone, said the major challenge is how to embed sustainability in companies’ daily business activities. She suggested companies focus on the SDGs that are relevant both for their business missions and their supply chains.

James Shapiro, Tata Sons, stressed companies’ investment in R&D is essential for the SDGs.

Gavin Wilson, CEO, IFC Asset Management Company, said multilateral institutions and multilateral development banks (MDBs) will increasingly become intermediaries between the needs of states, of the people and the money of the private sector.

In a session on ‘Reporting Business Progress on the SDGs,’ Sue Allchurch, UN Global Compact, stressed the need for a clarified framework for reporting on business investment in SDGs, with clear indicators to harmonize and compare data on business activities. Teresa Fogelberg, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), described the work of the GRI, the UN Global Compact and PwC on creating a mechanism to create the respective framework, which will be launched in September 2017.

Vishal Kapadia, Executive Director, The WikiRate Project, said WikiRate’s mission is to push corporations to be transparent and responsive by making data about their social and environmental impacts useful and available to all, through WikiRate Project’s open data platform.

Steve Ngunyi, Icon Be One, said small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) “can be the backbone of the SDGs.” He noted that the framework currently being developed by the UN Global Compact and GRI will be useful not only in measuring but also in guiding business. He added that the monitoring matrix can contribute both to attracting investment, as it shows the clear results of businesses, and to illuminating existing gaps in data and knowledge.

Wenche Agerup, Telenor Group, said Telenor Group adopted a business strategy in 2016 that prioritizes SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and aims to report in greater detail on the SDG targets in the company’s 2017 Report. Agerup cautioned that a complex reporting process might divert resources from actual implementation.

Steve Waygood, AVIVA Investors, stressed that there is a lot of sustainability reporting but nobody reads it. To address this limitation, he called for creating a public free ranking system that shows how companies perform on the SDGs.

In a session on ‘Experience of Business Engagements with Governments,’ Kati Ihamäki, Finnair, said sustainability is not philanthropy but business for Finnair.

Annika Lindblom, Secretary-General, Finnish National Commission on Sustainable Development, stressed the importance of national networks of partnerships in raising awareness of the SDGs and sustainability among the SMEs.

Naveen Rao, Merck for Mothers Government Representative, Kenya, identified key principles for PPPs: respecting the principle “leave no one behind”; spurring innovation; creating shared value for all partners; and respecting country’s ownership.

Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, said PPPs deliver most healthcare in Kenya. He added that the role of private sector and business will be “front and center” in Kenya’s SDG implementation.

Apostolos Kenanidis, President, the Hellenic Federation of Road Transports (OFAE), recognized the need for the digitalization of the industry as a matter of sustainability, explaining that it makes systems of transportation more effective and transparent.

During the afternoon session, a ‘Rapid-Fire Presentations on Goals in Focus’ took place, moderated by Dessima Williams, Office of the UNGA President.

On SDG 1 (no poverty) Victor Dosoretz, CEO of Grupo Mantra and Secretary-General of ICC Argentina, spoke about ICC’s role in promoting sustainable business opportunities and trade practices.

On SDG 2 (zero hunger), Jacqueline Chow, Fonterra, said New Zealand farmers voluntarily go to Sri Lanka to teach Sri Lankan farmers sustainable practices, as they are aware that sustainability can exist only if it is enacted across the entire supply chain.

On SDG 3 (good health and well-being), Zubaida Bai, CEO, Ayzh Inc. explained how her company promotes better hygiene practices among women after birth and among girls in India, using a US$3 kit.

On SDG 5 (gender equality), Margaret Munene, Founder, Palmhouse Foundation, said the Palmhouse Dairies and Palmhouse Foundation: help women small-holder farmers to access markets for their milk; contribute to womens’ financial inclusion by opening bank accounts for them and facilitating their access to credits; and funding women’s secondary education.

On SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), Cristino Panlilio, President, Balibago Waterworks, described the company’s success with harvesting rain water and filtering it to become potable.

On SDG 14 (life below water), Jill Boughton, CEO, Waste2Worth Innovations, said the company is addressing ocean plastic pollution through waste source reduction, waste material re-invention and effective waste management.

On SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals), Alice Cope, Executive Director, Global Compact Network Australia, highlighted the role of the UN Global Compact local networks in bringing together different stakeholders to advance shared goals. [SDG Business Forum Website] [SDG Business Forum Programme] [HLPF Website] [IISD Sources]

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