Business As Usual Will Not Save the Planet

By Mark R. Kramer, Rishi Agarwal, and Aditi Srinivas
Oct 30, 2019 9:00 AM ET

The United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) were explicitly designed to engage the private sector in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges. Four years into the UN’s 15-year timeline, the question is whether companies are advancing serious solutions or are simply embarking on a massive global public relations charade. Unfortunately, our internal research points to the latter. A dramatic and immediate change in direction by both companies and the UN will be essential if there is to be any chance of avoiding an embarrassing failure. The plan we describe in this article offers the necessary steps to reverse course and deliver urgently needed progress.

The commercial opportunities for business solutions to the SDGs are real and extensive. A CEO commission chaired by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman reported that meeting the SDGs offers a $12 trillion business opportunity. And, according to the UN Global Compact, more than 80% of its 9,500 corporate members have committed to advancing one or more of the goals. Ninety-five percent of those companies anticipated having a “significant” or “substantial” impact on the goals. 

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