News & Views

UN Global Compact Challenges Companies to Disrupt the Business-As-Usual Mindset

(New York, 21 September 2017)  Today, nearly 800 business leaders from over 70 countries joined leaders from civil society, Government and the United Nations at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2017. Convened during the 72nd Regular Session of UN General Assembly, the Summit focused on driving responsible business action and partnerships to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed delivered a special video message to Summit attendees, emphasizing that “to achieve our goals, we need leaders from all of society, including and especially business, to show the courage that helps chart a new course for humankind.” She further highlighted that “achieving the SDGs also calls for collaboration,” encouraging participants “to partner with others, including with the United Nations, especially at the country level [where] the Global Compact Local Networks have really an important role to play.”

With a view to guide participants in rejecting the status quo and the business-as-usual mindset, the Summit featured conversations with leaders from diverse sectors on the challenges and opportunities of pursuing the Global Goals. Speakers explored the role of non-state actors and cities to protect our planet through supporting the Paris Agreement.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, highlighted the role of technology in advancing Goal 5: Gender Equality. “Of the next 1 billion who are going to be connected to the internet, 75% of them must be women and girls. Because right now, the gap between men and women who are connecting is widening. We have to change the trend.” She continued, “Women lost out in the industrial revolution, we should not lose out in the digital revolution.”

Speaking from the perspective of his own city, the Honorable Bill Peduto, Mayor of Pittsburgh, focused on how cities can contribute to advancing the Global Goals. “There were some really smart people who started thinking about what if our future was different than our past. And instead of offering a false hope and a false narrative, they offered a long-term plan of how a city — a city that had its economic heart ripped out, a city that everyone had said had lived its time and had died — could come back,” Peduto noted.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, outlined the role of business as a force for good, saying, “Business cannot be a bystander in a system that created it in the first place.” When asked what was needed to achieve the Global Goals, Polman said, “in implementing the SDGs, as in any change process, there will be bottlenecks, setbacks, cynics, skeptics. It takes courageous leadership. That’s where the breakthrough comes from: from people who understand that putting the interests of others ahead of their own is actually in their own self-interest.”

Six of the 2017 class of SDG Pioneers were also recognized at the Summit for doing an exceptional job of taking action to meet the Global Goals. They shared stories of how they are working to champion sustainability at their companies and to mobilize the broader business community.

The Summit sought to catalyze the private sector to raise their ambition level for people and planet, drive innovations and work together to create a framework for measuring progress and impact on the SDGs. With less than 5,000 days to meet these Global Goals by their 2030 deadline, the UN Global Compact released a new set of tools and resources to support business regardless of where they are on their sustainability journey.

The Blueprint for Business Leadership on the SDGs aims to inspire all businesses — regardless of size, sector or geography — to take leading action in support of the achievement of the Global Goals. It illustrates how five leadership qualities — Ambition, Collaboration, Accountability, Consistency and Intentional — can be applied to business strategies, models, products, supply chains, partnerships and operations in order to raise the bar and create impact at scale. The Blueprint is a tool for any business ready to advance its principled approach to SDG action and become a leader.

Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of the Goals and Targets is a guide to measuring progress on each of the 17 Global Goals. Developed in partnership with GRI and with support from PwC, this is a comprehensive inventory of proven, ratified indicators for each goal taken from globally accepted frameworks. This represents a major step towards a single mechanism and set of indicators. A Practical Guide to Defining Priorities and Reporting will be launched to accompany this report later this year.

The 2017 UN Global Compact Progress Report, based on a 2017 survey of the 9,500 companies participating in the UN Global Compact, monitored — for the first time — business activities for the SDGs. More than 1,950 companies responded, representing 22% of participants across all regions, business sectors and company size. It highlights breakthrough innovations, alongside products and services that promise to transform markets for a more sustainable future, and opportunities for deeper engagement.

The Breakthrough Innovation for the SDGs Action Platform also launched two deliverables demonstrating how companies can employ new business models and disruptive technologies to accelerate progress on the Global Goals.

The Breakthrough Pitch is a guide designed to help sustainability professionals communicate the importance of the Global Goals to internal teams and identify opportunities to use them as a lens to spur innovation.

The Breakthrough Innovation Challenge brought together intrapreneurs from seven participants of the UN Global Compact over the past year to challenge them to create solutions employing disruptive technologies and new business models. Participating companies developed and launched seven promising solutions at the Summit, each leveraging disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, internet of things and big data that have the potential to address pressing challenges in sectors ranging from agriculture to energy.

UN Global Compact CEO and Executive Director Lise Kingo summarized the theme of the day as “change and innovation, in a big way.” She added, “The future is business unusual, and it’s amazing to see how many companies are… driving their businesses according to the Ten Principles, with vision and a direction, toward the SDGs. We should all feel encouraged that we have a strong wave to continue to drive the entire agenda.”

In an effort to mobilize a global movement for sustainability, Kingo challenged the audience of business leaders to find ways to make every single one of their employees “SDG Ambassadors.” She added: “Timing is everything, and it’s my sense that the timing is right — right now.”