We need to turn our approach to sustainable development on its head. We need to get it out of our minds that committing to sustainable development is about doing good or channelling resources to a sustainability team that does great work, but ultimately sits as a separate wing of your business.
In reality, sustainable development is about securing your business’s future. It’s about ensuring you are identifying, isolating and managing risks and taking advantage of opportunities.
It’s about making sure you have a great workforce and a business model that can survive in its external environment. Increasingly, committing to sustainable development is no longer an option. Sustainable development is a strategic issue—it is about whether we have the multiple resources available to us to survive and thrive into the future.
It’s that recognition, this shift in thinking, that I believe will ultimately ensure Agenda 2030—the UK government’s plan to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals—is a success. Businesses and investors are very much taking ownership of these issues—recognising that they have to play a role in bringing about the changes we need in the world. Governments alone do not have the resources to tackle these issues.
At the International Integrated Reporting Council, we believe that sustainable development and financial stability are inextricably linked. We offer a tool to businesses, a new way of thinking, enabling them to embed this approach to sustainable development in their business model and in the way they run their business. We understand that signalling your commitment to sustainable development is a lot easier than living it.
However, from the businesses that are on the journey to Integrated Reporting—now more than 1,600 in 62 countries across the world—we have heard some compelling success stories when companies really do embrace these issues. Like the real estate company in Singapore that has made financial gains from reducing its emissions. And the gas company that got a lower interest rate from a Japanese bank on the back of its integrated report.
In its 2017 report, Better Business, Better World, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission estimates the business benefits in terms of operating savings and new business to be US$12trn.
At the official Integrated Reporting Convention of 2017 in Amsterdam, we heard countless stories just like this from businesses and investors around the world.
We also heard insights from a new publication, The Sustainable Development Goals:integrated thinking and the integrated report. Developed jointly by IIRC and ICAS (the accountancy body), and written and presented by Prof Carol Adams, the publication aims to support businesses looking to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The report has been developed to help organisations enhance their contribution to the SDGs whilst reducing corporate risk and increasing opportunities that arise from sustainable development issues.
It addresses how resources and relationships—what we call the capitals—transform to create value for organisations as well as society, and towards the achievement of the SDGs. It also helps organisations to clarify any detrimental effects they may be having and how they can mitigate or alleviate these.
Company alignment with the SDGs
There are already companies around the world that are aligning the SDGs with their corporate strategy for value-creation, such as AkzoNobel, SAB Miller and Turkish Bank TSKB.
Others such as Arcelor Mittal, Cbus Superannuation Fund and Brazilian bank Itau Unibanco are going a step further and linking their contribution to the SDGs with the outcomes for the six capitals identified in the International <IR> Framework.
With the SDGs only two years old, practice is still developing, but innovation is increasing every day in this field and the IIRC has committed to working with these businesses and sharing best practice to enable every business to put the SDGs at the heart of their business model.
No business will be able to support all 17 of the SDGs. But at least one of the goals will be relevant and pertinent to the work of the vast majority of businesses. It’s with a real sustained focus on individual issues that collectively we can make the most progress.
The IIRC is committed to Agenda 2030 because, while our world is constrained by finite resources, our innovation, determination and energy to find new solutions should be limitless.
We join with businesses in offering a tool that will help to find a path towards a genuinely more sustainable future for our economy and planet.
Jonathan Labrey is chief strategy officer at the International Integrated Reporting Council.