2030 SDG Agenda:  What can we accomplish together

In today's episode, you'll learn why what are the goals and targets we can accomplish relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. We discuss where are the opportunities, and how should businesses be integrating elements of the SDGs into their corporate social responsibility programs.We also explore how the SDGs align with Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG).

This is part 3 of our 3-part series on the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Part 1: Sustainable Development Goals explained: Are they still achievable?

Part 2: Why the Sustainable Development Goals matter for business today

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

Today I've got two special guests. My first guest, who is my cohost is Janelle St. Omer, who is the Regional Vice President here at Benevity, as well as Sue Stephenson, who's a Co-founder of Impact 2030.

Janelle St. Omer:

Hello, everybody. Thanks, Karl. It's great to be here again. Sue, thank you so much for joining us. We are here this afternoon to talk all things, sustainable development goals, [00:01:00] and as we're tracking towards 2030, there is a lot to discuss.

Sue, thank you so much for joining us. Sue so much has happened in our world since 2015, from climate action to racial and social justice.

We're still seeing issues of equity and poverty, and hunger around our world.

As we're nine years to 2030, where do you think the real opportunities lie for companies, even for individuals, and individuals within companies?

Where are the opportunities with the SDGs today?

Sue Stephenson:

Nine short years until [00:01:30] the deadline on the sustainable development goals as they are now.

I think who could have foreseen the challenges of the pandemic in particular, which have really put a much greater spotlight on the challenges that are both from equity, inequality, racial inequality, health, justice, social justice.

I mean, it's [00:02:00] put a bigger spotlight on these profound issues that are embedded within our communities.

I think there is without question, we are seeing greater focus on what can we do as company X?

  • What can our employees do?
  • What can our communities do?
  • What can we as companies, what can we do as a sector together?

We saw this within the pharmaceutical company, we saw it with organizations, we saw it within the transportation [00:02:30] sector, as trying to mobilize the transportation of vaccine.

We've seen an acceleration of the pro bono supply of expertise of employees to help address some of these profound issues, particularly leveraging technology for the pandemic.

We have a report coming out, during Global Goals Week, [00:03:00] on transforming lives and communities, which is looking at what companies, how they have been mobilizing their people for the SDGs through pro bono skills based and hands on volunteer service.

Google has wanted embedding teams of fellows, of Googlers, into organizations to help identify why communities [00:03:30] of color were more profoundly impacted by COVID-19, just leveraging technology and just digging underneath that, so that there was a greater bank of knowledge that could be provided to decision makers, policy makers, et cetera.

I think as devastating as this period has been, I think it is providing an opportunity for companies to really hone in on [00:04:00] where they're going to put a stake in the ground.

I think it's been very exciting to see companies step forward and put multimillion dollar, billion dollar even, commitments around racial equity, around social justice.

It's been exciting to see those commitments and companies [00:04:30] putting stakes in the ground for which they're going to be held accountable for, that it's not just putting their money there, but also it's their mobilizing skills, talent expertise, passion of their amazing workforces as well.

I think it sounds trite, probably to say, it's a silver lining, but I think if there could be anything positive come out of that, I think that could be it.

Janelle St. Omer:

Absolutely. Hopefully [00:05:00] what it means, with everybody's so focused on all of the things that there is to focus on, that there will be a little bit of a recommitment or a refocusing on the goal.

The next nine years, perhaps we can have even more traction and progress than we've had before as well.

Sue Stephenson: Yes. Yes.

Karl Yeh:

Speaking of companies,

What should businesses be thinking about as it relates to SDGs ands their CSR programs?

Sue Stephenson: [00:05:30]

Here we are in 2021, I think for a company that has not made the move to integrate the goals, align the goals with the CSR or social impact strategy is a huge loss.

I mean, certainly if companies take it to the next level, and if they're aligning [00:06:00] it with their ESG strategy, with their business strategy, powerful, powerful, but this day and age, a company that has not at least taken that step to evaluate the goals and align them, and identify where company X, where we can as a company and our powerful workforce, our people, what role can we play in advancing those goals?

[00:06:30] It's interesting.

I don't have the statistic on how many companies have done that?

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development did a survey.

It would've been two years ago, because it was prior to COVID, aligning themselves with the sustainable development goals, but that's large companies that are part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

There's many, many other companies out there. [00:07:00] I would do a rallying cry for small and midsize companies. It's a golden opportunity. There's still nine years left.

We need to do this all together.

Janelle St. Omer:

Sue, I think to that point for small midsize company, or maybe even any company of any size, is just starting their CSR journey.

How should they be thinking about the SDGs?

What's the best place for them to start?

I mean, obviously you've led IMPACT2030, but you also led CSR at the Ritz-Carlton. [00:07:30] Give us your thoughts on that.

For companies starting their CSR journey, how should they be thinking about SDGs?


Sue Stephenson:

I think I mentioned this in a prior episode, but when I was at Ritz-Carlton, and one of the reasons I'd step forward to co-found IMPACT2030 was that, as an organization, we had the realization that these are goals that are applicable in every country that we do business.

It was a connection, which within CSR was challenging, because we had up until then, how different focus areas within it, different regions.

There was not a connectivity between in issue areas. [00:08:00]

That's then a challenge as you are reporting out for a company, whether it's local, national, or global.

As you report out on your collective impact, you don't want it to be smattered over multiple issue areas, you really want to be able to tell a holistic story.

The goals provide that.

The resources are there in all languages.

There's tremendous resources available.

Organizations, like Project Everyone, the globalgoals.org, [00:08:30] the United Nations websites. On the IMPACT2030 website, we have Resources For The SDGs section, a video content of report, the late latest reports.

We keep that updated.

There's so many resources available, but I think for companies that are...


Let's say we're talking about a company that has heard about the Sustainable Development Goals, but has never done anything with them.

I think it's an opportunity to sit down as a team, look at the goals, look [00:09:00] at the targets underneath, all 169 of them, of which you'll see, 75% is not applicable to your company, because they're targets that are written for national governments.

But you will see in there, there's things that you are already doing, that you're already focusing in on, specific things around education, around hunger relief, whatever it is.

You can already identify those issue areas.

I did find in the early days, we heard a lot from companies who [00:09:30] said they had a lot of historic issue areas that had grown with the company.

They had might have been a CEO's pet issue area many years ago, and it's just grown there, and it's bolted onto the CSR strategy. Isn't integrated, doesn't really play a role with what the organization is focused on or their general purpose.

This enables an organization to really start with a blank sheet to see what are we doing?

What can we do? What do our employees, [00:10:00] what our customers want us to do?

How can we integrate it with our business resources, with our philanthropic dollars?

It really enables that opportunity to design, take a design thinking approach from start, starting from scratch.

It doesn't mean that companies need to be overt about integrating the Sustainable Development Goals in any way, but having them there at the side and being able to articulate [00:10:30] what impact the company is making, I think is incredibly important in this day and age.

Janelle St. Omer:

Sue, to your point about what everybody's thinking about, ESG is top of mind for everybody, environmental, social, and governance. I know you touched on this in one of our previous episodes, but for those who missed it, how do the SDGs, or

How does SDG overall align to ESG?

Sue Stephenson:

I get this question asked a lot, Janelle.

The sustainable development goals are this global [00:11:00] blueprint adopted by all countries, 193 member states of the United Nations.

They're applicable local national government.

They're applicable to companies, to sectors, whether it's the social sector, whether private sector, public sectors, community citizens.

They're broadly applicable. ESG is specific to the business.

It's a business's blueprint, environmental, social, and governance. [00:11:30] It is a guide for ESG.

Often, people will talk about, and certainly the majority of goals as they're outlined in the icons, would seem to sit under the social part of ESG, whether it's hunger, poverty, education, but you've also got climate action here.

You've got clean water and sanitation, energy for all, [00:12:00] life on land, life under the sea.

Those environmental pieces are embedded in the goals as well.

The work that a company is doing around sustainability is E, environment for the ESG, the goals are a guide there.

Then under governance, the business ethics, all the things that they list, how you treat your workforce, your gender equality, all embedded within the Sustainable Development Goals.

[00:12:30] I would say as a company is working on its ESG strategy, the goals there are as a guide, the focus area.

They're complimentary is the way I would put it.

Janelle St. Omer:

That's a great way to think about it, because I think that I've certainly heard or observed that.

There seems to be a bit of a tension between the two, as folks are thinking about it, but I love the way that you framed it in terms of, it's a guide, it's a blueprint, and they serve to support one another, [00:13:00] but for you, companies out there, who are just thinking about this and figuring out how to wrap your head around that blueprint, just support, I think is a great way to think about that.

Sue Stephenson: Yes.

Janelle St. Omer:

Sue, final question for you, and this might be putting you on the spot in terms of bold predictions, but fast forward to 2030, here we are, we're nine years away.

What have we, as corporations, achieved together as it relates to the SDGs?

Fast forward to 2030, what have we as corporations achieved together?


Sue Stephenson:

Well, the sweet word there is together. [00:13:30] I think Sustainable Development Goal 17, that Partnership For The Goals, one of the beauty of the goals has been the ability for companies to talk about their CSR, ESG focus areas across silos, across company, across the sectors within our business world.

I think that [00:14:00] is how we're going to be able to move the needle.

We referenced it in the first call.

It's predicted now that the goals, we will not eliminate hunger and poverty.

We will not have gender equality.

We will not have eliminated all the issues around climate change and good health for all, et cetera.

All of them will be issue areas, but the needle will have be moved, even [00:14:30] though the pandemic has set things back by, by 2030, it will have moved forward.

We will have made advances, and we will no doubt have another set of goals that will be set for the following 15 years maybe, but I think the ESGs have provided this unique moment in time for this 15 year period to enable companies to align around these common issue areas that are profoundly important, [00:15:00] everywhere where they do business, everywhere where their employees and their customers live and work.

I'm extremely, extremely hopeful for the future, but I think companies are missing an opportunity if they really don't leverage the goals to support their work.

It's there as a support mechanism to help determine what should we be focusing on? Where can we most, both make a difference? [00:15:30]

What will we be proud to tell our children as far as what we were focusing in on, and the difference that we made?

Janelle St. Omer:

I love that.

I think to your point, the tri-sectoral partnerships, all, or more than all sectors, really coming together to figure out the role that they can play, because none of this is going to be solved by businesses alone.

It's not going to be solved by government or academia, but if we can all come together and leverage our various strengths and assets, then that might really be the place where we start to make [00:16:00] some real traction.

Maybe we won't see it by 2030, but as you say, there'd be a new set after that. I think, if we all continue to work towards that in partnership and collaboration, then maybe we'll start to really see some active change on some of these pieces.

Sue Stephenson:

Yes. Just in closing, when we talk about the role of business, two years ago, last time, the general assembly was held in person at the UN [00:16:30] during Global Goals Week.

The Secretary General, Antonio Guterres made the comment that,

"If the private sector is not fully engaged around the Sustainable Development Goals, then all of the conversations around the goals are just a nice conversation in New York, at UN Headquarters, because the needle will not be moved."

I think everybody collectively recognizes it's going to take a large [00:17:00] role from the private sector to get this advanced forward.

Janelle St. Omer:

That's a very big statement.

For those out there, in our audience, who are thinking about it, we need you involved.

We need the private sector to step up, but Sue, thank you so much.

This was really fantastic. I think the SEGs have, as you say, they came out strong with a bang, then they've lost their luster a little bit, but hopefully we can really start to refocus and recommit to driving these goals, and we'll see some real change happen.

Sue Stephenson: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely. Hopeful for the future.

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