Four years after the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the most ambitious plan of action for people, the planet and prosperity until 2030 -, the Global Compact Network Spain stresses that business leadership is one of the key drivers to boost the changes needed to make them a reality. This is detailed in a new guide entitled SDG Year 4, Business Leadership in the 2030 Agenda: From Theory to Action.  the institution has edited to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the approval of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The publication was presented the 2nd of October at a ceremony held at the Official Association of Quantity Surveyors and Technical Architects of Madrid, which has been a member of the United Nations Global Compact since 2007. At this event, representatives of the Global Compact Network Spain have been accompanied, among others, by Cristina Gallach, High Commissioner for Agenda 2030, and Antonio Garamendi, President of the CEOE (Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations).

‘It is time to accelerate and increase entrepreneurial action to achieve a truly revolutionary impact. We need convincing business leaders, that from the top management spread the message of the SDGs within and outside the organization, and leading companies, willing to set ambitious commitments that activate a real transformation,’ claimed Cristina Sanchez, executive director of the Global Compact Network Spain. These words reinforce the important role that Spanish companies are playing as agents of change and which is also reflected in the guide. In it, 84 national companies have demonstrated their contribution to the SDGs by publishing, among all of them, a total of 162 quantifiable commitments with time limits. In this sense, the ranking of objectives with the highest number of commitments is headed by the SDG 13: Climate Action, followed by the SDG 7: Affordable and non-polluting energy, together with the SDG 12: Responsible production and consumption. This is a gesture by leading sustainability companies and a trend that must spread among the largest number of entities to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs.

In this context, although there is still a long way to go, Spain has made notable progress in these four years.  Thus, companies continue to take steps forward, as it is detailed in the guide:  while in 2016 the percentage of IBEX 35 companies that mentioned in their sustainability reports the integration of SDGs in their business strategies was 49%, currently stands at 86%. A general commitment that is capitalised by the largest entities, as it is stated in the text that currently 80% of the companies in the stock market index identify priority SDGs for their business, as opposed to the 20% that they did after the first anniversary of the 2030 Agenda. In addition, this evolution is also felt in the significant increase in companies that specify how they contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, in 2016 only 6% detail it and in 2019 66% do.

The actions of the Spanish network members are also a clear reflection of this trend. Their contribution to the SDGs is increasing, so currently 68% of them report the opportunities and responsibilities that the SDGs represent for their business and 66% report how they are integrating them into their business model.

‘The advances are very significant, the SDGs have penetrated among the large companies and these are incorporated at all levels,’ said Angel Pes, president of the Spanish Network who, in addition, highlighted the need to extend this action among small and medium enterprises. ‘Without being fully aware, SMEs are already carrying out different actions that contribute to sustainable development. In this sense, the great challenge we face is to be able to establish indicators that allow us to measure their scope and, thus, become aware of the progress of their work in terms of achieving the Goals of the 2030 Agenda’ added Pes.

The CEOs of important companies such as Adif, Arpa and FCC Construcción, who based their interventions on the experience of integrating the objectives of the 2030 Agenda into their business strategies, debated business leadership and other issues developed in the publication, such as the economic opportunities provided by the SDGs or the challenges of the 4.0 industry.

The big challenge: moving from theory to action

The main message that the publication conveys is the need to activate levers that drive a transformation that integrates sustainability into the culture of the organization, in addition to companies establishing public commitments, quantifiable and limited in time.

With the aim of encouraging a notable evolution in this matter, the document includes interviews and statements by some of the most relevant CEOs and corporate presidents at a national level. These testimonies mark the tendency to follow by all the entities and everything seems to indicate that 2019 is a new starting point, to activate definitively, the transition from theory to action.

New economic and business opportunities associated with the achievement of the SDGs

A good incentive to encourage collaboration in the contribution to the 2030 Agenda is to convey to markets and businesses the growth that sustainability can bring to the global and local economy, as well as to the individual businesses. As the document states, the 2030 Agenda seeks sustainable growth without leaving anyone behind.

Four areas of great potential for sustainable economic growth are identified: gender equality, the circular economy, combating climate change and mitigating corruption.

On the other hand, there are several arguments, specifically ten, which are described in the guide to encourage companies to work on SDGs and, through them, find important opportunities. In addition to this Decalogue, there are testimonies from senior executives of large companies that demonstrate the benefits that their companies have obtained from contributing to sustainable development.

You can download the guide here: SDG Year 4, Business Leadership in the 2030 Agenda: From Theory to Action.