Managers Shape Global Sustainable Development Skip to main content
Scientists agree that human activities sparked or began to influence climate change as far back as the 19th century.

However, a new study moves the timeframe forward to the 1830s. This means that businesses have been facing challenges like insufficient natural resources, weak financial markets, limited local buying power, and underqualified talent as far back as the industrial revolution. These obstacles limit a company’s potential to grow and directly impact the bottom line.

At the Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, South Africa and 192 other nations endorsed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan made up of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets.

These SDGs provide a universal and visionary framework for global collaboration and action, bringing all contributors together to face and solve these challenges proactively.

Business is expected to play a significant role in achieving the SDGs, and it may also have a lot to gain. Which begs the question, how can managers help shape global sustainable development?

Simply put, one of the most critical success criteria for a company’s long-term development is top management involvement in its sustainability management. Through their commitment and leadership, top managers not only supply resources and provide incentives for staff to push sustainability initiatives but also significantly impact organisational culture and company-wide decision-making processes.

How can you, as a manager, harness SDGs and create opportunities to address these challenges?

Step 1: Outline The Goals You Align With And Commit To Them

Identifying how the goals, directly and indirectly, relate to your company will be a vital first step. In order to have a positive influence, managers should take a strategic approach and connect corporate priorities with the applicable SDGs. This will allow you to integrate them in a way that feels authentic to the brand and that is better for consumers, employees, and stakeholders to engage with.

For example, goals 8, 9 and 12 specifically address economic growth, employment, sustainable industrialisation, innovation, and sustainable production. Still, many other SDGs could also benefit your business and may even allow you to expand into new markets, recruit talent, and reduce operational risk.

Keep these 3 top tips in mind:

  • Align with the SDGs with the most significant potential for a long-term effect in terms of risk and opportunity, and where your business has the greatest ability to contribute to progress toward the goals.
  • Be sure to identify the levers that can be used to increase the effect by changing business models, procurement strategies, products, and services.
  • Say it loud and say it proud. Publicly commit to the SDGs; this will create a sense of accountability and ensure you do what is needed to tackle the relevant goals or else face public scrutiny.

Step 2: Hold Yourself, Your Team And Your Company Accountable

Selecting the SDGs that best align with your business is easy; the challenge comes into play when executing the 169 specific, global and universally applicable targets that accompany each individual goal. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to keep your team on track. You can do this by:

  • Organising your SGDs according to priority.
  • Then, developing a set of Key Performance Indicators to track your company’s success.
  • And aligning any existing targets and monitoring and measurement methods with these new targets and KPIs.
  • As a manager, you should examine how effectively existing practices are aligned with your chosen SDGs. Be sure to do this when defining your targets and KPIs.

Step 3: Collaboration is Key

Collaboration is essential, both within sectors and across industries, because no single organisation can solve any of these problems on its own. Collaboration will almost certainly be a necessary factor in achieving the SDGs and scaling up efforts.

How can you facilitate collaboration?

  • Identify opportunities for cross-industry collaboration with peers, customers, suppliers, academia, and nonprofit groups to produce mutually beneficial solutions, utilise networks, and share responsibilities.
  • Team up with governments, cities, and civil society to put your business’s financial, technological, and human resources to work for development, stability, and trade.

Collaboration could also generate revenue, provide business growth opportunities, and foster innovation in products and services. More resilient and prosperous communities will emerge as a result of identifying new business models, goods, or services that drive progress toward the goals, markets will expand, new ones will arise, and consumer bases will grow.

Step 4: Keep Transparency Top Of Mind

Your company will almost certainly be held accountable for the impact of its operations, particularly when it comes to progress toward SDG-related targets. Incorporating your chosen SDGs in the core business and reporting cycle would benefit your business and its public image, creating visible shared value. As a manager, you can do this by putting systems in place to integrate SDG management into day-to-day business decision-making.

Need More Than Just 4 Steps?

SDGs are complex and interconnected, and their success likely depends on new partnerships between businesses, governments and civil society. It requires a new way of thinking. This is why we recommend business managers enrol for the MBA International Organisations programme at Stellenbosch Business School. Here, you will learn how to apply responsible leadership in a global development context and navigate the SDGs road map – one that will allow you as a manager to set in motion systems, processes, and sustainable strategies that can transform business models, products, services and the communities they impact.

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