With only eight years remaining until the 2030 deadline, we are not on track to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from eliminating extreme poverty to taking urgent action to combat climate change. To deliver on the 2030 Agenda, the global economic system must undergo transformative change. But despite the commonly agreed need for the business community to take action, companies around the globe are struggling to break down the complexity of the highly interlinked Global Goals to embed them into their business practices.
To answer these questions, B Corp certified consulting partners are providing support to the broader business community: in 2020, the B Corp Way was launched – a platform that enables businesses in Europe to find B Corp certified consultancies, so-called B Corp Way partners, that meet their needs, help them address their challenges and improve their impact across different areas of their operations. After committing their own business to be a force for good by going through the rigorous B Corp certification process, B Corp Way partners are B Corps dedicated to supporting other companies in adopting the “B Corp Way” of conducting business – a way of doing business to benefit all people and the planet.
Currently, the B Corp Way offering encompasses six different consulting services – ranging from support on becoming a B Corp to guidance towards radical business model transformations. In total, 44 B Corp Way partners from across 17 different countries provide support in 23 languages. With the specific service offering “SDGs and the B”, B Corp Way partners are playing an active role in the 2030 Agenda by catering to the need of businesses to align their strategy and operations with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. View B Corp Way partners that offer this service.
For The Terrace, a B Corp certified consulting agency based in the Netherlands, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide the global agenda of sustainability where everyone plays a fair role. However, The Terrace considers the SDGs merely as topics that still require concrete action plans. “This is why aligning with measurable key performance indicators is so important”, says the Dutch consultancy.
Similarly, the B Corp Way partner Nexio Projects points out how the broad nature of the SDGs can make it hard for businesses to make concrete contributions. They consider this a challenge as well as an opportunity in itself and advise companies to take the time and resources to decipher these broader goals to set targets and goals that truly reflect their operations.
“Overall, for a business, committing to the SDGs means that the company is using an internationally recognized framework to add structure to its sustainability strategy or management system. The SDGs provide overarching, big goals and inside of that targets and objectives to work towards.”
– Herman Grové, Sustainability Consultant, Nexio Projects
Italian B Corp InVento Lab also regards the SDGs as a comprehensive framework that can help companies to have a complete view of the path to take moving forward. As a B Corp Way partner, they consider it a key priority to convey the importance of integrating sustainability into all aspects of a company’s operations rather than as an add-on to one part or another of the business model.
Workshop with B Corp Way partner InVento Lab
Over the years, the team at Nexio Projects has seen many ways businesses approach the SDGs and, therefore, varying levels of commitment. From their experience, companies often lack concrete targets, objectives, and procedures to report on the progress. On the other hand, when businesses have a high level of commitment, they embed the SDGs into their strategy, have targets and objectives in place, and use those to communicate how the company contributes to the goals while identifying further opportunities for positive influence on the SDGs. According to Nexio Projects, “tools like the SDG Action Manager help companies understand which goals are relevant to them and how they can impact those goals. This can help a lot in creating a sense of direction and urgency”.
The SDG Action Manager is a tool co-developed by the UN Global Compact and B Lab, that B Corp Way partners use to support other businesses in aligning their strategy and operations with the SDGs. In essence, the instrument allows companies to set goals, take action & track progress on the 17 Global Goals.
The SDG Action Manager is also used in the consulting practice at InVento Lab. “A good starting point for companies wanting to take action on the SDGs is an initial analysis of how they might already be addressing one or more of the 17 goals. This will allow them to make more informed decisions along the way”, says the team. “The SDG Action Manager is an effective tool in this mapping process, whether companies go through it alone or with the help of an external advisor.”
According to InVento Lab, working with the SDG Action Manager inspires businesses to take further action due to the common language and common ground the tool provides and lets companies see initiatives that might not have been evident before adopting the framework. Additionally, “the SDG Action Manager provides concrete opportunities for all stakeholders to collaborate on SDG impact and to track the progress”, according to The Terrace.
B Corp Way partners share the same holistic approach when it comes to SDG action and utilize reliable tools and frameworks to bring clarity to the process. Nexio Projects, for example, advises companies to use tools like the SDG Action Manager and the SDG compass or to work with an expert to find a true sense of clarity. “Understanding the material topics of a business is something we highly encourage. A lot of companies do a bit of guesswork around what makes the most sense rather than understanding their real impact”, says the consultancy.
Similarly, The Terrace, when working with clients, tries to make companies’ positive and negative impacts tangible. “This is a key step towards becoming a force of good: focus on where you can drive the most impact.”
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a holistic and complex approach to tackling the various crises humanity is facing. Thus, when it comes to finding one’s strategic focus area(s) within them, there is an inherent tension between breadth and depth of focus due to the broad nature of the goals. So, how can businesses combat this ambiguity in their approach?
For The Terrace, it is all about finding the balance between prioritizing key impact areas that a company can drive proactively and rally its teams behind, and managing the less strategic topics comprehensively.
“A company’s nature, needs, and characteristics of its supply chain should inform the strategic approach chosen in relation to the SDGs”, says InVento Lab. “When choosing between a more generalized or a more specific approach, the first step is arguably becoming aware of one’s current status and contributions to sustainable development.”
Nexio Projects’ approach to the SDGs is based on the core relationship between impact, both maximizing the positive and mitigating the negative, and the opportunities the Sustainable Development Goals create. “The strategy comes from understanding the different levels of integration and we see materiality as an integral part. We would say that is the one way companies can combat ambiguity and go more into depth with the impact they stand to have on the goals.”
B Corp Way partners agree that B Lab’s standards and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are intertwined and oriented towards the same overarching vision. According to InVento Lab, the overlap in relevant matters addressed by both frameworks reinforces their urgency and significance, while they act as stimuli to approach outlying matters from one or another approach.
The Terrace points out a concrete example of alignment:
“Due to the strong focus of the B Lab standards on both people and the planet, they align strongly with the SDGs. Think of supply chain management in the B Impact Assessment in relation to SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.”
B Corp Way partner Nexio Projects sees a potential downfall of the SDGs in the fact that they are more easily applied to a country, whereas the B Lab standards are much more usable for a business as they are measurable. B Lab’s standards take the concept of sustainability and make it more practical – ultimately, with the goal to contribute to the bigger scheme of things which is where the SDGs operate.
Nexio Projects (Photo by Thijs Huizer)
“The SDGs are not an external set of goals, they are of interest to us all”, says The Terrace, “So, turn the SDG framework into an engaging process that fits the people and culture of your company.”
InVento Lab equally follows this notion of empowering collaborators and developing SDG in a participatory manner. Their advice: Ensure the company’s overall strategy is not just informed by its sustainability strategy but fully integrated with it!
Finally, Nexio Projects has 5 key suggestions for companies willing to get started on working with the SDGs: