Can a new management tool help businesses align to SDGs?

Claud Stig Pedersen, Novozyme’s head of corporate sustainability, at the 2015 Nordic Summit.  Photo by: Leader Lab / CC BY-NC-SA 

The sustainable development goals may not be final yet, but one company is already building a new tool that will help guide management decisions to identify business opportunities that align with the new global development framework.

Novozymes, a global biotech company, set out a new corporate strategy at the start of the year, one which included sustainability targets of reaching 6 billion people with their technology by 2020, increasing partnerships, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, educating 1 million people and delivering transformative innovation.

That strategy led to the company deciding to design a new assessment and management tool to “understand and verify contributions to the SDG context and optimize and maximize contributions going forward,” said Claus Pedersen, Novozyme’s head of corporate sustainability.

Novozymes is developing the product as it goes and has tested it in specific cases but continues to refine it as it identifies weaknesses and awaits the finalization of the SDGs. While it isn’t perhaps a perfect tool, or entirely scientific, Pedersen said he believes it can help the company make informed decisions in a better way than in the past.

“By understanding the societal contributions of our technologies we get a new language and we can make ourselves much more relevant in the development context,” he said.

The tool will build on metrics used in life cycle assessments and add a socio-economic dimension. Different industries feed into different targets so it can relatively quickly determine how to quantify contributions — in some cases only qualitative assessments will be possible and for other sustainable development goals, a business may only be able to verify that it does no harm.

The tool will primarily be used to assess the company’s innovation pipeline during the phase where the business case is developed for a particular technology or product. The decision on whether to move a project forward or stop it in its tracks will evaluate the hard business factors with an evaluation of societal impact.

Novozymes isn’t interested in keeping the tool a secret.

The company is working with the U.N. Global Compact to develop the SDG Compass, a guide for businesses on how to align and integrate sustainability practices with SDGs, which is slated to be launched in September when the SDGs are adopted. It is also sharing and learning from other companies and business organizations as it goes.

The broader conversation around private sector participation in the SDGs needs to be reframed according to Pedersen.

“Stop talking about rewarding and reputation and accountability; talk about opportunities,” he said.

Perhaps new tools, like the one Novozymes is developing, will contribute to changing the conversation and help companies build out a business case for tackling the SDGs. And they may not be alone: Other organizations, like FSG,  are also looking at how to turn the goals from problems to business opportunities.

You can help shape our coverage on global development innovations by emailing or tweeting #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.