Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Who Believes This Is Possible? And that Business Can Lead!)
Representatives of 193 UN countries who worked for years to shape and then unanimously pass the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), believe it! Going beyond the Millennium Development Goals, the SDG's apply to all nations. The SDG goal shapers took the conditions of marginalized groups and the wounds of planet systems radically seriously.
Also, believers, Paul Polman and Andrew Winston, authors of Net Positive, a highly welcomed book published by the Harvard Business Review in October of this year. Polman is CEO Emeritus of Unilever, Winston is a highly respected spokesperson for Sustainability, a Harvard Professor and an author of books and many articles on sustainable business practices. Their enthusiasm for the role of business in creating a sustainable society, embraces the SDG’s, they write:
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with their seventeen areas for action, are designed to interact in systems, and reinforce one another. Without partnering, which is the seventeenth SDG, achieving the other sixteen goals will be impossible. The SDGs are a partnership for humanity; they’re multigenerational, with purpose at the core, and aim to ensure that nobody is left behind. The companies that embrace the opportunity from meeting the SDGs—an estimated $12 trillion and 380 million jobs globally, by 2030, in only four sectors—will thrive. IT’S THE BIGGEST BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY IN HISTORY, WAITING TO BE UNLOCKED.
Paul Hawkins, entrepreneur and Sustainable Business author is among those welcoming this book. To paraphrase, he has famously stated that looking strictly at science, the promises of a sustainable society are closing out of reach but, if you look around at the thousands of people and organizations who are now working to create a sustainable society then one cannot be anything but hopeful. SDG’s are becoming a backbone for resurgent hope.
Founders of the Future Fit Benchmark and the companies who have joined forces to implement and continuously improve this benchmark have focused on the SDG’s to guide their benchmarking targets. The twofold purpose of this Post is to introduce the SDG’s and offer considerations regarding the development of associated metrics.
I have cut and spliced together a video starring sustainability-sketcher Alex Mognin in a role of introduction to the SDG’s and Dr. Geoff Kendall, Future-Fit cofounder and CEO who will set the metric context for the SDG’s in relationship to the Future-Fit Benchmark.* Closing this Post, I will provide an abbreviated description of Future Fit metrics and then give suggestions for all readers to extend their imaginations into benchmarking without borders, discovering and inventing new ways to reduce the human ecological footprint.
[Please excuse the 1st 3 seconds of garbled speech in the video – it was not the fault of the speaker :(. When you begin the video make sure the control is targeting the beginning; and when the video is finished make sure you scroll down to get the rest of the Post. Thank you for reading – comments are welcomed. Karl]
What should businesses do? Dr. Geoff Kendall, Dr. Bob Willard, and their associates offer an answer to this question with the Future Fit Business Benchmark, a work that is freely downloaded and marked by a process of improvement fueled by its community of users. Before describing how this benchmark embraces the SDG’s to construct a compass pointing toward a sustainable future, the following chart will show how the benchmark differentiates from its business-as-usual predecessors.
Neither benchmarking against past performance nor against peers gives any guarantee that performance is moving towards a sustainable future. Benchmarking against Sustainable Development Goals and Targets, guarantees that improvement is profoundly moving toward a sustainable future.
Picturing the Sustainable Development Goals as distributed on an illustrative “tree” depicts how they cluster and where they are within an overall system perspective. The environmental system is the foundation upon which societal and business practices depend, while business depends upon both a healthy environment and society. The flourishing of all three systems depends upon scientifically determined system conditions, which if breached lead inevitably to system failures. Symbolically, these conditions are depicted as the trunk that supports the branch systems. Not everything, of course, can be measured; so, the leaves are selectively measured and those that can represent others are known as indicators.
System Conditions are the scientific common ground, summarizing the requisites for planetary and societal life to survive and flourish.
System conditions serve as a guide for radical innovation.
“The good news is that the eight system conditions offer clear guidance on what to aim for. Although they define what must not happen, this should be seen as liberating rather than restrictive: if they are not breached, anything is possible. Hence the system conditions foster radical innovation, by helping us steer toward a flourishing future without prescribing any specific course of action.” (This statement and other illustrations are from the Future Fit Benchmark’s online resources.)
[See next page for outline of the System Conditions.]
The 17th SDG is “Partnership.” Business and others have a role to play in actualizing all the SDG’s. The goals function as a system and they must all be achieved if the destructive forces on the planet are to be halted or mitigated.
The Future Fit Benchmark divides business responsibilities into two tiers. The first responsibility is to do no harm and the second responsibility is to make positive contributions to the well-being of the planet and of
society. Regarding the first responsibility, action resources are provided for each SDG and business is challenged to achieve performance goals that are within their immediate scope. Secondly, business is challenged within each SDG to help others pursue their fulfillment.
A 4-way chart describes these two tiers of responsibility. “Direct impact” refers to actions that are directly under the control of a business. “Indirect impact” refers to actions that are dependent upon mutual partnership with others.
upper left quadrant – upper right quadrant –
others depend less upon non-renewable energy energy is from renewable sources
lower left quadrant – lower right quadrant
operational waste is eliminated repurpose others waste
Numerous examples can be found in the resources provided by the Future fit Benchmark, for reading online or downloading; e.g. FFBB-Methodology-Guide-R2.1.pdf’s
Benchmarking without Borders:
Actualizing the SDG’s provides a space for maximal creativity and surprising profitability. Although the Future Fit Benchmark describes individual business’s direct impact of eliminating SDG shortfalls as a pathway to doing no harm, this is not true. It is of course, a good thing, but we are all part of a gl
obal economic system that is ravaging the planet. A few years ago, King County contracted with the Stockholm Environmental Institute to measure its ecological footprint. It turned out that 75% of the footprint occurs before goods even reach King County. So even if the County were to reach impact levels of zero waste and zero greenhouse gas emissions, that would only account for eliminating 25% of the ecological footprint. This is an estimate applicable in many places. To do no harm, to achieve a breakeven point in our own personal or business operations, we need to squelch the negative impact that is within our control and help many others to do the same.
To see positive examples of reaching out beyond either our supply chains or downstream with products, see my recent post, “Transformative Sustainability Crosses Boundaries: Farms, Villages, Cities, Oceans & Industry.” In this video, George Banby describes how Interface Carpets worked To Indirect Impact to help one of its suppliers work with a Third World fishing village to clear w
ashed up fishnets from a coral reef, thereby helping the fishery, the village, and the Interface supplier in a resource that would subsequently be sold to Interface for making carpets. In the same video, Richard Conlin describes the creation of a policy for supporting Farmers’ Markets that would bring benefits to the preservation of farmland and support for downtown builders at the same time. I cite these examples only to show that positive pursuit of the SDG’s can be not only good for the planet and society but also a borderless opportunity for entrepreneurship within businesses and cities.
Is there hope that it is yet possible to create a society that fosters individual fulfillment, social justice and an environmentally restorative economy? You may be part of the answer, look at this very brief closing video (featuring yours truly). Thank you for reading my Post, comments welcomed. Can
*Future fit benchmark materials are published and freely downloadable at Futurefitbusiness.org. They are copyrighted under a Creative Commons license that requires appropriate attribution.