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Redefining the Role of Business to Achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Image credit: Nataliya Nikiforova, UNECE

Thanks to the ingenuity of private businesses and the leadership of intergovernmental organizations, humanity has made monumental leaps forward since the dawn of the 21st century.

I am not talking about the rise of the smartphone. I am talking about the fight for a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable world.

Over the past 15 years, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals have brought governments and NGOs together with leaders from the private sector to build the most successful anti-poverty movement in history, ultimately lifting more than a billion people out of extreme poverty.

Today, though, there is much more to do.

Around the world, nearly 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Carbon dioxide emissions have increased more than 50 percent since 1990. Water scarcity affects 40 percent of the global population – a percentage that, in the coming years, is projected to increase.

Despite these and other enormous challenges, humanity can and must flourish on this planet. The trillion-dollar question is: Who will lead the world into the next phase of coordinated, global action?

Neil Hawkins
will discuss
creating shared value
valuing natural capital

New Metrics '15.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has pointed out, further progress will require collective, long-term effort. So this month, as the UN launches its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help guide this effort and course-correct our world, the private sector must take a leadership role.

Business holds the key to fulfilling the UN’s aspirational goals — because business is uniquely equipped to deliver innovative changes on a large scale, develop best practices that others can adopt, and build capacity and momentum toward sweeping progress.

This will not be easy. In fact, it will require a fundamental reevaluation of business’s role in society. Companies — particularly those with global reach — will need to take more and more responsibility for areas traditionally outside their missions and balance sheets.

At The Dow Chemical Company, we are already doing precisely that. We are proving that, even in today’s volatile and uncertain environment, doing well by doing good is possible, especially if you set bold and ambitious goals and create a culture that carries them forward. Since 1995, Dow has saved more than $6 billion from investments in sustainability — a number that continues to grow. And in the years ahead, we plan to generate $1 billion in net present value from projects that are both good for business and good for ecosystems.

To succeed today and in the future, we must continue to redefine the role of business. We must realize that we earn the right to operate by delivering long-term value to society as a whole. For Dow, over the next decade, this will mean leveraging our science and scale to help realize the bold promise laid out by the UN.

After all, more than 96 percent of the world’s manufactured goods are enabled by chemistry. We know that, by changing the building blocks of energy, infrastructure, water treatment and food, we can achieve significant progress on the SDGs. In fact, earlier this year, Dow launched its own ambitious 2025 Sustainability Goals that address each of the 17 SDGs — and incorporate the value of nature and society into all of our business decisions.

Dow 2025 Sustainability Goals

Click to view full infographic.

I am pleased to note that Dow is not unique in this regard. Several other companies, including Unilever, have adopted SDG-inspired frameworks to build their sustainability platforms. Other businesses such as 3M, Dell, and Philips are also working to advance progress on these goals.

We applaud them all, and we could not be prouder to stand with them. Two decades into our sustainability journey, Dow understands that capitalism can make a powerful, positive difference for all of the world’s 7 billion people — not to mention the 2 billion more on their way by 2050.

That is why we are not just committed to creating sustainable solutions for some of the world’s greatest challenges while developing a blueprint for global sustainable development. We are staking the next 10 years on this effort. And we are encouraging others — across the private sector, academia, government, and non-governmental organizations — to join our ranks.

Dow’s goals, like the UN’s goals, are not merely business as usual. They will lead us to transformative change. By working together, at the intersections of business, government, and civil society, we can leverage the best of what each of us has to offer — and help create a better world. 

Neil Hawkins is the Chief Sustainability Officer and Corporate Vice President for The Dow Chemical Company. Dr. Hawkins drives strategy and implementation for Dow’s sustainability and EH&S programs, including the Company’s recently announced 2025 Sustainability Goals. 

He has served… [Read more about Neil Hawkins]

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