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EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Taking up the challenge to report on the Sustainable Development Goals

Lise Kingo, Sherah Beckley

21 Sep 2017

In this exclusive interview, Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, speaks from the 2017 UN General Assembly on what she is most excited about and what she hopes leaders will take away from these events.

“The UN Global Compact is working very hard to make the Global Goals local business. We are engaging with large, small and medium-sized companies, meeting them where they are on their sustainability journey so they can create even stronger and better companies geared for the future, and help the world achieve the Global Goals in under 5,000 days.”

A new ground-breaking report – Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of the Goals and Targets” – developed by GRI and the UN Global Compact, with the support of PwC, will be launched today at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. It is a first step towards a unified mechanism to help businesses report on contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals

Sherah Beckley for Thomson Reuters Sustainability: What type of data should the private sector be collecting to measure their impact against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and who should be helping to coordinate this?  Who should be helping to set standards?

Lise Kingo: There are two dimensions to this question.

Firstly, at the UN Global Compact, we are very keen to understand what has happened in the last two years since the launch of the SDGs. Which companies are integrating them in their business strategy and daily work? And to what degree are they reporting on their impact on the SDGs.

This is what you’ll find in our 2017 Progress Report, launched on Monday. It builds on the examples of over 2,000 UN Global Compact companies, and has a wealth of data that is very interesting.

We share details on which companies are picking up this agenda and which SDGs are most popular for businesses and how the goals are being embedded in companies.

The other dimension of data that we would like to attain from companies is ‘impact’. What is the impact of the companies work with our Ten Principles and the SDGs and how is that impacting society?

This is more complicated, however. There are a number of more advanced companies that report and share data on societal impact but it is resource intensive. We are seeing this challenge across the board and that is why we want to facilitate this effort and enable companies to report back on social impact.

And that’s why we are so happy to be launching two different tools with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), that will allow companies to start reporting on the SDGs in a business manner.

SB: This new research and tools ‘promise to transform markets for a more sustainable future’ by highlighting breakthrough innovations, products and services. How crucial is the relationship between innovation and sustainability to drive sustainable growth?

LK: There are very good reasons why the UN Global Compact for the last couple of years has created an “Action Platform” on the theme of breakthrough innovation.

We simply believe that the goals cannot be addressed properly unless there is change across companies to include breakthrough innovation.

It could be in terms of new technology, a new business model, or testing new products for their markets, or to inspire other companies to innovate across their value chains.

We have launched a platform called the Global Opportunity Explorer with a couple of partners — DNV GL and Sustainia — where we have shared more than 250 concrete solutions and business cases, showcasing companies that have already created breakthrough products and services.

You can search for specific goals or interests and see the many great examples of business cases and return on investment. A personal favorite example is the company Adidas who developed a new sports shoe which is made from plastic waste retrieved from the oceans. Not only is it a great looking shoe with a customer waiting list, it also draws attention to the issue of plastic waste in our oceans, sending a strong sustainability message but also an excellent business model for the company.

SB: ‘Raising the ambition level and measuring the impact of responsible business’ is a key focus for this year’s summit, what are the outcomes you hope the Summit achieves?

LK: The vision and mission of the UN Global Compact initiative is to create a movement of responsible businesses and organisations that will create the world we all want.

We want responsible business on a larger scale now; otherwise we are not going to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

So everything we put into the Summit is related to how companies can better manage and be ambitious to scale their work and impacts on the SDGs, hence a very important theme is the ‘Breakthrough Innovation’.

We feel the SDGs are creating a very new and ambitious agenda for companies that will not be achieved through ‘business as usual’ but through transformation and breakthrough innovation.

It’s important to also note that running across all our initiatives is the theme of financing for the SDGs.

It is very clear for everyone that the funding for the implementation of the goals is not viable in the right places, we lack between US$5-7 trillion to really boost the areas of the SDGs in the coming years.

At the UN Private Sector Forum on Monday, the topic was Innovative Finance for the SDGs and companies shared the new tools and products they are creating to make is easier for private equity to channel their funding into areas of the goals. Areas ranging from climate change (SDG 13), to decent work (SDG 8) or improving education (SDG 4) to empowering women (SDG 5).

SB: You mentioned the theme for the UN Private Sector Forum is centered on financing for the SDGs. What do you see as the main challenge for private and public investment in the SDGs and are you hopeful we can overcome this by 2030?

LK: I have had the pleasure of being part of this agenda for over 30 years now and we have always known that the financial sector is hugely important for creating a more sustainable world.


I actually think that with the launch of the new goals, the situation is changing and many companies in the financial sector are really beginning to see the power of having a lighthouse for the world with the 17 goals.

For example, our sister initiative Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) now has 1,500 members from various parts of the financial sector who represent more than $60 trillion in assets.

With this amount and some of the commitments rolling out over the coming weeks, I think we are looking at something that could hopefully be a tipping point, where private equity will be able to see the attractiveness of investing in projects that support sustainable development and make a better world. We see this in the new themes such as, blended finance, green bonds and SDG bonds.

It’s very exciting and it seems like the planets are aligning and beginning to move now, with the mobilization for different financial themes and interest from institutions like the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC), and World Economic Forum (WEF). And_

we are also seeing much more demand from private investors for products that support the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Global Goals.

SB: The SDG Pioneers award celebrates and recognizes business leaders who are leading the way in advancing the Global Goals. What’s the one takeaway you’d like all business leaders to leave with after UNGA week?

LK: Just as breakthrough innovation is a prerequisite to achieving the Global Goals, so is leadership. We need brave, courageous business leaders that are not afraid to embark on a very interesting SDG journey and who are interested in transforming their company.

Instead of providing an academic and detailed analysis, we are showcasing 10 role models that are great examples of what leadership for the SDGs means. With individual and unique stories, they are all great examples of what a sustainable leader is today.

And that’s the key takeaway. With every individual attending events and our Leaders Summit during UNGA, we want them to be a leader for the SDGs and to use any platform they are given in life to promote them.

As former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also said, “the Global Goals are the peoples goals, you need to drive them and own them”.

The Sustainable Development Goals will only be met if each of us takes personal leadership to drive them.



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