Christian Arno

Stand up for sustainability: 4 ways businesses can support urgent UN SDGs

6 min Read
The UN's Global Goals for Sustainable Development colour wheel logo

From tearing through Heathrow Airport to Mark Darcy’s Christmas jumper, Richard Curtis has always made wonderfully grandiose moments, universally relatable. So, it's time to add one more to his directorial list: ‘Nations United - Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times’. Not what you were expecting? Well, it may not have the rom or the com in it, but boy does it pack a punch and leave you feeling empowered and full of worldly love by the end. (Not forgetting a certain Beyoncé power ballad. Yes, even I love a Beyoncé power ballad).

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and five years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, this short documentary outlines the four key areas in which we must take action to achieve a greener, fairer planet. In short, it's a sentimental look back at how far we've come and an urgent call to arms for how far we've got to go.

Framed as a response to Covid-19, it conveys the pandemic as a portal for progress. As Arundhati Roy puts it, "Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew." Coronavirus has shown that a U-turn in human behaviour is possible. So, really there are few excuses for not making urgent behavioural changes in the name of positive development. I say this having just come back from the shops juggling apples from every limb because, yet again, I forgot my reusable bags...

I agree it's hard to know what is worth the change and where to draw the line. So, rather than swimming in a sea of eco do's and don'ts, now is the time to be clear about top-priority SDGs and to streamline our actions effectively. So, what does the UN suggest?

The 4 most important changes and the urgent UN SDGs to tackle first:

1, Climate and planet (SDG 7, 12, 13, 14, 15)

The UN has declared that we need to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. On a global scale, that means investing in the transition to renewables, no new coal-based power stations and no subsidising fossil fuels. Governments can implement carbon tax, boost green jobs, put an end to deforestation and enforce sustainable farming, consumption and waste management. It's about achieving a circular economy that will stand the test of time.

This may all seem far removed on an everyday scale, but it is the small initiatives and modifications to everyday habits that open the umbrella of change. So, here comes the plug... Pawprint for Business tracks, reports and compares each of your employees' efforts to reduce your business' carbon footprint. Our fun and friendly digital tool guides individuals on their unique eco journey, to better their workplace, and better the planet. See the umbrella opening?

And I can't stress this more: The. Time. Is. Now. With Net Zero becoming law in the UK last year, I really believe the next decade will bring exciting progress and action to decarbonise our nation. As outlined by The CCC's Sixth Carbon Budget, the 2020s promise: "Scaling up new policy development, ramping up new supply chains for low-carbon goods, and addressing sectors that have progressed too slowly: transport, industry, buildings, agriculture". Moreover, as we establish new trading relationships this year, we can prioritise carbon budgets and set national standards on the basis of UK emissions.

2, Poverty and inequality (SDG 1 &10)

Poverty is a man-made conundrum. Although a billion people have been lifted out of poverty since 1990, 10% of the world are still living in harsh conditions.

Especially in these times, when the most vulnerable groups are being hit hardest by the pandemic, time and money must be spent wisely to ensure we protect those that need it most.

The business world is already responding to this; a new model that prioritises people and planet as well as profit is emerging. The queue to become a Bcorp, the boom in green investment, Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs are all indications of this. But as a united group, we must go further. Ethical practices and policies, as well as diversity strategies that actually walk the talk, must also become commonplace. We must play an active role in forging a fair and equal future for all.

It feels right at this moment to quote Amanda Gorman’s inspiring poem which was read at Biden’s inauguration, “We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside”.

3, Justice and human rights (SDG 16)

The reaction to George Floyd's death last year highlighted the public demand for justice and equal human rights. SDG 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies, drives access to justice for all and aims to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

McKinsey reports that diverse workforces perform better financially, with diverse companies 70% more likely to capture a new market audience. In other words, prioritising a diverse range of people is likely to lead to profit.

Besides, we cannot forget that diversity and environmentalism are closely linked, with communities of colour bearing the worst of the climate crisis. By being conscious of this while working towards a low-carbon future, businesses can also contribute to decreasing racial disparity.

4, Gender inequality (SDG 5)

I will be the first to put my hands up and say the workforce at Pawprint is male and pale. But we are carving inroads to change that; I feel strongly about Pawprint’s responsibility to promote gender equality in the UK. It has also not escaped me that the countries with female leaders have performed particularly well during the pandemic...

McKinsey calculated that, by 2025, the global economy would grow by $28 trillion if the gender gap was closed.

For me, that says it all. Yet, still one in 5 women are married before the age of 18.

Investment into education, sexual health services and putting an end to gender-based violence is vital to gain social and economic empowerment for women. Lots of big corps address the digital divide with CSR days that train local women in tech, showing that there’s more space to dig deep and actively invest in women across every strand of our businesses. If you’re in the creative, tech or science industry and looking to attract more women, check out Empowering Women with Tech. They’re a Leeds-based non for profit community that supports women and underrepresented groups to succeed in careers in these industries.

To bring this back to the environment, it is worth reading the SHE Changes Climate open letter that urges the UK to spearhead gender equality within the climate conversation by ensuring 50:50 representation at COP26 later this year. To cite the letter: "Women and girls more often face the brunt of climate-related disasters than men... For their interests to be appropriately considered in climate change policy responses, women need to be involved in strategic planning and decision-making".

So, let's just rewind here..

4 things your business can do to stand up for sustainability:

  1. Contribute to the journey to Net Zero with the help of Pawprint for Business
  2. Ensure fair workers' rights and corporate responsibility across all arms of the business
  3. Embody diversity and inclusivity through recruitment and retention
  4. Actively invest in female employees and women-led initiatives

We have the chance to re-emerge from this virus with a healthier, happier planet and people. So, what's stopping us?

Richard Curtis is a man after my own heart, in the way that he's framed these huge, global SDGs into manageable and engaging opportunities. At Pawprint, we know that to achieve sustainable development goals is to eat the elephant one spoonful at a time.

Pawprint for Business helps you to set attainable targets and make tracked improvements to engage your workforce and ultimately build a business your people can believe in. And what is more, we digitise it and make it fun. So put some Beyoncé on, rev that EV and we'll see you on the right side of 2030.

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