ISO, Carbon Footprint, LCA, BRC, GRI… and now SDGs – more than just acronyms?

“Caesar’s wife must not only be honest” We have all heard or used this phrase on more than one occasion. And in these times it is more applicable than ever: we live in the era of transparency, social networking, hyperconnectivity and overexposure… And if you don’t do so, then is too bad: sure you’ll want to hide something.

The point is that a company should not only be a good company, but that it should be able to show it off without a hitch. And besides, publicising it usually has good consequences. Or at least that is what the specialists in reputation and brand value marketing argue.

But simply saying that a company is good is not usually very helpful: there are too many scandals associated with false advertising. That is why third-party verification, quality seals and other certification systems are used.

As the business world is very rich, a multitude of options have emerged and often confuse rather than clarify: one has to be an expert to know the scope and meaning of even the best known ones. Sometimes having the right seal is a great advantage, and not having it can indicate that you are late.

Are the SDGs one of this set? Absolutely not. Because the SDGs are essenntially a conceptual framework on which to classify the impact of our activity on Humanity and the Planet. In addition to the 169 goals that if achieved would mean a significant improvement in the lives of billions of people as well as the rest of the living beings on the planet. Both present and future.

What is the use of SDGs for business? As already mentioned, they are the framework within which the company must analyse itself, throughout its value chain, to see how it can help to achieve the goals. And also to understand how the changes in society needed to achieve the goals will affect it, so that it can prepare itself and benefit from them, thus obtaining a double benefit: to achieve the SDGs faster and to be an active part of the process.

The verification and certification of products, services… will be a great help to show everyone, including the company’s own employees, that actions are being taken to improve; but the key is the commitment of the whole company to become a leader in the race for sustainable development. That is the best seal.

SDGs, a non-political agenda

New York, September 2015: a meeting in the UN’s headquarter set out to change the world.

It started wanting to be a different meeting than many, that’s why this meeting marked the end of a journey that began long ago, and the beginning of a 15-year journey. The path began in 1992 at the Rio Summit, where a comprehensive action plan was launched to create a global partnership for sustainable development to improve human lives and protect the environment.

A few years later, in 2000, the Millennium Goals (MDGs) were launched: 8 goals to reduce extreme poverty by 2015. Near od that date, and with results rather than discrete, it began work on a more ambitious compromise with the eradication of poverty and the environment, by placing more emphasis on multilateral partnerships. This time was important to commit not only the governments of countries, but also the business and the civil society.

After a worldwide consultation at all levels the settled the Agenda 2030 and 17 Goals (SDGs) approved in September 2015, exactly 5 years ago. But the results still remain discreet.

The main difference between the SDGs and the MDGs is the ambition and the level of achievement. To achieve the SDGs, the entire society has to get involved, not just the government and public institutions. Because it’s people, not papers, who change things.

17 Sustainable Development Goals are 17 headlines: how important are the targets of each of the goals. Targets are more specific, and often quantifiable. Or at least that you can try to quantify and therefore measure.

The biggest mistake is to try to convert the Agenda 2030 on a political agenda or a political party. It is true that with the SDGs you can do politics: there are several and incompatible ways to get an indicator pass one value to another, either up or down.

And this is the moment where policy have to work with the SDGs. Everyone will agree with the headlines, but not with all the meaning of the effort to achieve them. So, it’s necessary to avoid the political media sense of the agenda of the SDGs, because they are about much more than a medal or pin for politicians (never better). The society is mature enough to change and transform itself: we are seeing it with all kind of initiatives that emerge and are quickly greeted with enthusiasm.

And more importantly, there is a social consciousness that is making companies to change. Is true that there are policies that require them to do it (but we’ll talk another day), but the companies must take that challenge to get to go beyond legislation and become an engine of change. To do it they have a good guide: that 17 fundamental aspects. With them, they must look to know if in, addition to being profitable, they live in the future or want to stay in the past.