5 tools to help businesses tackle the SDGs

By Naki B. Mendoza 19 October 2015

Men in suits use their laptops. What are some of the tools businesses can use to help tackle the Sustainable Development Goals? Photo by: Richard Brown / Cite Conference / CC BY-NC

Now that the Sustainable Development Goals have been signed and sealed, it is time for the private sector to deliver. For many businesses it is a difficult task, in large part because the objectives may seem abstract. Supporting a goal to end poverty in all its forms everywhere or to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls can come off more as moral aspirations than measurable deliverables.  

Fortunately, a host of resources exist to help businesses deal with this issue. Civil society and the private sector have collaborated on various fronts to create practical tools and guidelines that assist businesses in sorting out how to put the SDGs into action.

While they vary in their approach, they all aim to guide an organization through the process of assessing its priorities; identifying which SDGs match its objectives; aligning its core strategy to those SDGs; and providing concrete examples of businesses who are moving along in the process.

Here are a few of the resources that are available to businesses:

SDG Compass

Who’s behind it: A collaboration between the United Nations Global Compact, international sustainability consultancy GRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  

What it involves: The SDG Compass provides guidance for companies on how they can align their strategies as well as measure and manage their contribution to achieving the SDGs.

The guide presents five steps that assist companies in maximizing their contribution to the SDGs – understanding the SDGs, defining priorities, setting goals, integrating sustainability into the core business and reporting and communicating information.

The SDG Compass functions as a user guide that is intended to lead an organization through a self-assessment process by asking evaluative questions and focusing on systems and processes it has in place. The SDG Compass is developed with a focus on large multinational companies. However, small and medium-size enterprises are also encouraged to use it as a source of inspiration and adapt as necessary. It is also designed for use at the entity level, but may be applied at product, site, divisional or regional level as required.

SDG Industry Matrix

Who’s behind it: A joint initiative between the U.N. Global Compact and international consultancy KPMG

What it involves: The SDG Industry Matrix, also created as part of a U.N. Global Compact partnership is a resource that is designed to inform by example. The project will showcase brief industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action that are related to each of the SDGs. The findings will be presented in a series of publications that will highlight bold pursuits and decisions made by a diversity of companies for every SDG.

The publications, “or matrices” that demonstrate the confluence between business and the SDGs, are clustered around the following industries: transportation; financial services; industrial manufacturing; healthcare and life sciences; food, beverage and consumer goods; energy, natural resources and chemicals; and infrastructure. For every matrix, KPMG will convene a roundtable discussion with issue area experts and industry associations to review the content, agree on the most compelling opportunities for shared value, identify the most pertinent examples and ultimately present the publications. The roundtable dialogues are being held various international locations through December.

The Poverty Footprint

Who’s behind it: A collaboration between the U.N. Global Compact and international advocacy group Oxfam.

What it involves: The Poverty Footprint is an assessment tool that enables companies and civil society partners to understand corporate impacts on multidimensional poverty.

As a tool to help implement the SDGs, the Poverty Footprint provides a comprehensive overview of the factors that influence poverty. It emphasizes stakeholder engagement and partnership between companies and civil society as a means for establishing pro-poor business strategies.

The Poverty Footprint describes itself as a “research partnership” that goes beyond tools that assess risk of negative impact by also identifying business strategies that deliver a fairer share of value for people living in poverty.

Similar to the SDG Compass, the Poverty Footprint provides an impact assessment of where a company and its value chain are functioning to alleviate poverty and where its actions are exacerbating poverty. It provides data that enables an organization to manage the positive and negative impacts of its value chain more effectively and to find opportunities to advance pro-poor business strategies.

It also gives companies a tool for producing a public report to share its findings and identify next steps for commitments and provides recommendations that shape a plan of action.

Business for 2030

Who’s behind it: An initiative of the U.S. Council for International Business

What it involves: Business for 2030 is a visually-driven, interactive site that provides private sector actors with a useful understanding of companies who are adopting strategies that align with the SDGs.

Similar to the SDG Industry Matrix, Business for 2030 informs through examples. The site showcases past and continuing business contributions to sustainable development through the prism of the SDGs.

The site is structured as a three-tiered approach. First, by providing a comprehensive explanation of the SDGs and making the business case for achieving them. Second, by providing examples of businesses that are currently working towards each of the 169 individual indicators for the 17 total goals. And third, through an open-source invitation that gives businesses the opportunity to submit their contributions and efforts to be showcased on the site.

Business Charter for Sustainable Development

Who’s behind it: A project by the International Chamber of Commerce.

What it involves: The Business Charter for Sustainable Development has been specifically designed to help companies contribute to the SDG implementation by providing a practical framework that includes tools for businesses of all sectors and geographies to help shape their own sustainability strategy.

Less self-assessing than the SDG Compass and the Poverty Footprint and without the case study examples of Business for 2030 and the SDG Industry Matrix, the Business Charter for Sustainable Development is unique as being a practical resource for any and all businesses. It is intended to be relevant for small and medium-sized companies and businesses in emerging markets as a common and accessible starting point for aligning with the SDGs.

It is organized by identifying eight principles for sustainable development and the underlying indicators in support of each one. For each principle, the charter offers concrete recommendations of intra-industry and collaborative actions that could be taken to meet those principles. And importantly, it links those courses of actions to an individual SDG, providing a tactical guide for how any business can work towards fulfilling a global goal.

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About the author

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Naki B. Mendozamfbmendoza

Naki is a former reporter for Devex Impact based in Washington, D.C., where he covered the intersection of business and international development. Prior to Devex he was a Latin America reporter for Energy Intelligence covering corporate investments and political risks in the region’s energy sector. His previous assignments abroad have posted him throughout Europe, South America and Australia.


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