On Monday 24th June 2019, Impact and the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) ran the third annual ‘Making Global Goals Local Business’ conference at Aviva, London. The sell-out conference was part of a UK-wide roadshow series to raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and stimulate practical business action. The well attended event coincided with the announcement that the UK government has committed to reaching zero net emissions by 2050, which relates to Goal 13 (climate action).
Over the course of the day, it became clear that there is growing momentum to implement the Global Goals in businesses, but it will take time and hard work for them to become a fundamental business practice. Participants from every sector and size of organisation were engaged throughout the day, and were keen to learn about changes they could practically make to integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into their day-to-day work. These observations were epitomised in the UNGC AGM, in which Steve Kenzie (Executive Director of UNGC) emphasised that ‘the mission is to turn global momentum on sustainability into practical local action’.
Impact’s Jo Appleby and Dom Fitch hosted the conference and were responsible for stimulating practical application by evoking action, dialogue and interactions between attendees and panellists within and between sessions. These activities included sustainability focused icebreakers, more complex Global Goal conversations and the creation of a continuing digital community. Huge customisable posters in the foyers made it possible to express and capture opinions and thoughts, which then developed into action plans for businesses to integrate the Goals into their lives and those of their customers. Impact’s short interactive sessions were interspersed with very informative keynote panels:
- Sustainable Finance – Chaired by Nicky Black, Chair, UN Global Compact Network UK, with Euan Munro, CEO, Aviva Investors; Saker Nusseibeh, CEO and Chairman, Hermes Investment; Paul Dickinson, CEO, CDP; and Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director, UN Global Compact.
“Sustainability is no longer specialist, it’s mainstream. The things we know will matter to consumers in 2050 are already starting to affect business and investments today, making environmentally unfriendly investments increasingly risky.”
- Innovation – Chaired by Louise Kjellerup Roper, Executive Director, Volans, with Anna Turrell, Head of Sustainability, Nestlé UK & Ireland; Sandy MacDonald, Global Head of Corporate Sustainability, Standard Life Aberdeen; and Olya Krestyaninova, Collaborating Partner, Circular Economy Lab, University of Oxford.
“We’re all at different places, your starting point needs to be making the goals relevant to your internal and external context. Materiality framing issues are still very important, but the real challenge is culture change and translating the language to help leadership to understand.”
- Business Strategy – Chaired by David Williams, Founder and CEO of Impact, with Márcia Balisciano, Head of Corporate Responsibility, RELX Group; Rebecca Marmot, Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever; Richard Hardyment, Research Director, World Benchmarking Alliance; and Chris Harrop OBE, Group Marketing Director & Director of Sustainability, Marshalls.
“We need to connect those at the very top of organisations with the communities that are impacted by corporate decisions. Sustainability makes unquestionable business sense. The reporting needs the same standards and rigour that is applied to financial reporting.”
- Gender Equality – Chaired by Steve Kenzie, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network UK, with Brenda Trenowden, Chair, 30% Club; Rosie MacRae, Head of Inclusion & Diversity, SSE; and Gillian Unsworth, Head of Gender Pay Gap Reporting, Government Equalities Office.
“The gender pay gap, closing at the current rate, will take 200 years to level. We need to ensure women globally have the opportunities to work and own land. People need a strong sense of purpose and belonging. When you have that you’ll have a real culture of diversity and inclusion.”
- Climate Change – Chaired by Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate & Energy, WWF, with Zoe Knight, Managing Director, Group Head, Centre Sustainable Finance, HSBC; Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact & Sustainability Officer, BT; Llorenc Mila I Canals, Head of the Secretariat of Life Cycle Initiative (Economy Division), UN Environment; and Marc Lopatin, Communications Strategist, Extinction Rebellion.
“Are we really addressing the climate emergency? Becoming carbon neutral by 2045 is a target, but will it be its too little too late? We need diversity of opinions; we need to get out of our echo chambers and engage in the hard conversations. Climate action is our biggest and most pressing goal and we need engagement from all sectors.”
It has become apparent that governments and individuals do not have the ability to make the necessary changes alone; power is in the hands of our organisations. The exponential rate of change and highly competitive business environment is driving organisations to think short-term, at a time when long-termism is essential. Small practical actions can deliver huge sustainable business growth, shaping a responsible business environment. For many, one of the key talking points was a wall mounted version of Extinction Rebellion’s infamous pink boat (a boat placed in Oxford Street during the protests earlier this year to highlight climatic issues), which in many ways reflected the feeling that we are all ‘in the same boat’, striving to reach a sustainable, responsible future of business.
John Elkington concluded the conference with the reiteration that we are passing a point of no return. Businesses cannot operate without governments framing the agenda. Futureproofing is an easy word to say, but it’s hard to deliver. The SDGs are critical and they are not an incremental change – they’re an exponential change with a deadline of 2030.