Sustainable Development Goals: Integrating Sustainability Initiatives with Long-Term Value Creation

By Busco, Cristiano; Fiori, Giovanni et al. | Strategic Finance, September 2017 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Development Goals: Integrating Sustainability Initiatives with Long-Term Value Creation


Busco, Cristiano, Fiori, Giovanni, Frigo, Mark L., Riccaboni, Angelo, Strategic Finance


Our planet continues to face many global economic, social, and environmental challenges and uncertainties. To help deal with them, in September 2015 many governments worldwide agreed to pursue 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Promoted by the United Nations, these SDGs define global priorities and aspirations for 2030 and rely on the important and value-creating role of business organizations in delivering on the promise of sustainable and inclusive development.

SDGs will be both an opportunity and a challenge in the years ahead. Several business organizations across the globe have started this journey by identifying and executing sustainable strategies as key drivers of their visions and business models. The SDGs present an opportunity for business-led solutions and technologies to be developed, and they offer an overarching framework to shape, guide, measure, and report the value created through business objectives, initiatives, and performance. Measuring and reporting on these goals enable business organizations to contribute to the SDGs while capitalizing on a range of benefits such as identifying future business opportunities and strengthening stakeholder engagement.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals? Where do they come from? Are companies ready to engage with them? How? What are the possible roles of management accountants in this space? We address (and perhaps answer) these questions by providing examples of a number of organizations--such as PepsiCo and Eni--that have been pioneering a certain degree of attention to the SDGs when measuring and reporting their business performances.

The Evolution of Sustainable Development

For the past 30 years or so, world leaders, supranational organizations, and national governments, as well as private and public organizations, have embraced sustainability as the cornerstone in their search for development and long-term growth. Sustainable development, conceptualized as the means to achieve sustainability, was defined in 1987 by the United Nations' Brundtland Report as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Also known as Our Common Future, the report was the outcome of work by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WECD), which was sponsored by the U.N. and chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland.

In the years following the release of the Brundtland Report, various institutions and international bodies have further attempted to identify the core elements of sustainable development. With the intention to address the numerous issues broadly referred to as the domain of sustainable development (such as water emergency, health, climate change, pollution, social inequalities, access to energy, extreme poverty, and hunger), several major events and initiatives have taken place globally. For example, at the Johannesburg World Summit in 2002, sustainable development was defined as embracing social inclusion and economic development as well as environmental aspects.

In 2012, the U.N. further refined the concept of sustainable development (see U.N., "The Future We Want"), and in 2013 the United Nations Sustainable Development Solution Network (UNSDSN) extended it with the inclusion of good governance as a fourth pillar. In parallel, public, private, and nongovernmental organizations have been directly involved in the attempt to coordinate efforts regarding the sustainability agenda (see, e.g., the U.N. General Assembly resolution in 2010, "United Nations Millennium Declaration-General Assembly Resolution A/RES/55/2"). This process was consolidated in 2015 when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, accompanied by a list of Sustainable Development Goals (17 objectives and 169 targets) that all countries of the world are encouraged to achieve by 2030. (See www. …

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