Updated: May 12, 2020
With impact becoming a buzzword and yet so complex to be defined, we are often left thinking what we can do as individuals or within our organizations in order to support progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Why not framing our business goals or individual ambitions in the context of impact and the SDGs and create a new narrative?
2020 marks the start of a decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and lately we have witnessed more and more commitments at a global and local level, more organizations taking action and more individuals thinking or speaking about sustainability. This year will also see the UAE open its doors to Expo 2020, an event which have all been closely following since the winning of the bid, which believe it or not, was 7 years ago. Taking place for the first time in the region, World Expo revolves around advancing the pace of progress and driving sustainability to create a ‘meaningful and lasting legacy’. Across the region, social entrepreneurship is on the rise and globally the impact investment market has almost doubled since 2015. Besides this, as consumers, we became more conscious in our choices and we intensely scrutinize brands which we feel are not ethical or transparent enough.
Sustainability has frequently been associated to environmental impact and eco-friendly solutions or at the completely opposite pole to financial sustainability, which encompasses generating economic returns. But impact has more meaning attached to it, a much deeper one. Impact goes beyond the immediate outputs of our activities as it represents the knock-on effects of our actions, sometimes very complex and challenging to quantify or even to attribute as a result of our initiatives. But we all have an impact, be it us as individuals, as organizations or as governments. The unique framework of the Global Goals encompasses 17 areas in which globally we are challenged. It is no longer about donations, volunteering or one-off CSR projects, but about achieving an equitable future for all, living in harmony with the environment and enabling thriving economies. The question is, how can we further our positive impact and be part of the change which the Sustainable Development Goals are attempting to shape?
There is rich research which shows that on one side, we as individuals are guided in our purchasing decisions by the sustainability credentials of the brands we choose from and on the other hand that business leaders feel that sustainability plays a key role in an organization reaching its objectives.
With impact being such a broad term and with the Sustainable Development Goals looking so overwhelming, we mostly are left thinking that our hands are tight. An optimist by nature, I am a firm believer that we can all be a force for good and act as agents of change. Within all the sustainability advisory projects, I always encourage to:
1. Define your purpose. Whether as individual or as a business, start with what is meaningful to you. What is it that is closer to your heart and to your organization’s business model? Maybe you are passionate about education, which, is also one of the SDGs (4- Quality Education). You can share your knowledge or expertise amongst your network, you can invest in training programs for your employees, or you can integrate in your marketing initiatives educational campaigns for your customers.
2. Assess the status quo. What is it that can be managed better? Is it that at home you can reduce your electricity or water consumption or maybe the food waste? Can you send plastics waste for recycling? DEWA introduced a programme which shows your consumption compared to similar households and offers you tips to reduce it. At an organizational level, look into your business model and define the most material aspects you can maximize your impact in, for instance at a consumer level, within your supply chain, your CSR program or inside your organization.
3. Set targets. Although 2030 aims are fantastic in shaping your long-term ambitions, break them down into smaller, achievable milestones. I always like to refer to the Japanese Kaizen principle of incremental change which leads to a sustainable change. Rather than only committing to switch entirely to clean energy by 2030, you could for instance replace a small percentage of your vehicle fleet to electrical ones or install solar panels on one of your warehouses in 2020.
4. Collaborate. SDG 17 is all about partnerships, across and within all sectors. Remember the first example about education and lending your expertise? You can, as an individual, sign up to one of the online course platforms, such as TeachMeNow and share your knowledge with the ones looking to enhance theirs. Or as a business you can redirect any potential food waste to the UAE Food Bank and support the ones in need. Did you know that 1/3 of the global food production is wasted every year across its value chain?
5. Invest in innovation. Technology breakthroughs are shaping our world and social entrepreneurs have at the core of their businesses innovative ideas meant to drive progress towards sustainability. I have mentioned in the beginning that impact investment is on the rise, and as an individual you can also be a part of this. For example, a UAE based company, Sarwa, now offers socially responsible portfolio options, at a minimal investment starting point. As a business, you can drive impact through innovation in the areas which make a good business sense too, like product diversification for underserved markets or circular approaches.
A last aspect I wanted to touch on is that many organizations still perceive sustainability as something good to do, rather than a way to enhance the current business strategy. Food for thought, as per an analysis conducted by UNDP, the SDGs represent 12 trillion USD in market opportunities in innovation within four economic systems: food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials and health and well-being.
Whatever it is that you commit to, remember that we can all generate impact. And I would love to grab a coffee and speak more about it.
About the Author Mihaela Nina is the Founder of Concerto TIC and leads the strategy development and implementation projects
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