Step 1: Familiarise
True alignment does not begin and end with the 17 high-level goals. Real contributions are made by creating alignment at the detailed target level. In order to obtain a true sense of what is to be achieved, firms must invest time and effort in gaining an understanding of the underlying targets and the local circumstances. Firms who fall short on the familiarisation process can only loosely align themselves to the simplified global goals. Five years into the SDG timeline, this loose alignment is no longer acceptable. These firms, can be accused of ‘SDG Washing’ or a superficial form of engagement if they don’t have an understanding of, or link to the detailed SDG targets.
Educating and engaging employees and other internal stakeholders is also an important part of the process. Employees who are versed in the goals are key to maintaining internal commitment. Firms may wish to develop their own internal collateral clarifying the SDGs and the role the firm will play in supporting their achievement. Alternatively firms can utilise existing resources to inform and engage employees provided by the Impact 2030 platform here.
Step 2: Prioritise
While it is ideal to create some level of alignment with all 17 important goals, this is a substantial request and most firms will begin by first prioritising or creating a subset of the goals and related targets that will drive initial alignment efforts. Upon familiarisation with the goals and targets, a firm should first look to its mission and vision for areas of priority. It can then look across the entire value chain or corporate giving portfolio for opportunities to minimise negative impact or increase positive impact of the business on the SDGs. A firm can then further prioritise the SDGs by considering local needs, stakeholder interest, the level of effort involved, or resources available. Prioritisation should be treated as more than simply a list-making exercise. Employing the hub-and-spoke framework and investing effort during the prioritisation process can help a firm identify many areas of peripheral engagement or ‘quick wins.’
Step 3: Integrate
Firms then integrate the priority SDGs into corporate practices or philanthropy by either 1) identifying benchmark policies, strategies, programmes, and procedures and adjusting what is already implemented, or 2) by innovating and implementing new ones. The Global Compact, in partnership with KPMG, published the SDG Industry Matrix which illustrates how firms can integrate priority areas of opportunity. The Industry Matrix highlights success stories across many firms and all seven guides are available here. The International Chamber of Commerce also offers a guide on how businesses can integrate SDG aligned practices here.
Innovation either in terms of either commercial products and services or as and output of corporate giving is an area that is ripe for SDG alignment but also for business growth. The SDGs specifically call on the private sector to spearhead investment and technology transfer for innovation in the areas of affordable clean energy and healthcare technologies. The goals also suggest that firms extend their reach to previously underserved communities. Aligning with the goals not only promotes entry into untapped markets, but helps firms better connect with consumers that increasingly insist upon sustainable business practices.
Each of the Sustainable Development Goals has associated targets and indicators, and it is good practice for individual firms to follow suit. As SDGs are integrated into corporate practices or giving, firms should set their own internal targets and establish a means of measurement in a way that is locally relevant to the global target. Doing so supports more than just reporting. Collecting, using, and sharing information around a firm’s commitments and progress can play a central role in driving tangible contributions, raising awareness, communicating success, and calling for partners. Firms may be tempted to set targets based on past performance or industry standards; however, targets should be set based on the needs within the community. Issue areas that are particularly problematic should be assigned ‘stretch goals’ to hasten progress.
Step 4: Communicate
Communicating about SDG commitment and alignment is essential to creating and maintaining momentum towards achieving the goals by the 2030 deadline. Communicating should be internal and external, and can include progress reporting of interim and final results, advocating for the engagement with the goals, highlighting partnerships and collaborations, etc. Sharing progress and recording data is not only important to track contributions but also to establish a baseline for the next round of goal setting scheduled for 2030.