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A Business Model for Sustainability

Business leaders must recognize that in global value chains, there is no way to outsource environmental or social responsibility. On the contrary, multinational companies can and must use their extended supply chains to drive change and improve the quality of life in the markets where they operate.

LONDON – In a recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that without “rapid and far-reaching” changes to how land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities are managed, the damage to our planet could be irreversible. The message was clear: we need a cooperative effort on a global scale to change our current trajectory. And, given that many of the toughest sustainability challenges the world faces are linked to how it does business, the only prudent way forward is to change how business is done.

This may sound daunting, but we already have a framework to guide the transition: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, adopted in September 2015 by 193 countries, are designed to achieve a “more sustainable future for all” by 2030, which, by extension, will enable a better business environment. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission has estimated that meeting the SDGs could add some $12 trillion and 380 million jobs to the global economy by the end of the next decade.

With so much to gain – and to lose from inaction – the private sector is beginning to focus on the connection between profits and sustainability. According to the Ethical Corporation’s latest Responsible Business Trends report, 69% of business executives surveyed said they are integrating SDGs into their strategies. At the same time, the number of companies receiving B Corp Certification – which measures a firm’s social and environmental performance – has increased in recent years.

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