Cadpeople partner and CSO Thomas Juel continuously take part in the Trouble Shooter panel, in which challenges in business life are raised up for discussion. The most recent challenge was a qualified answer to the following problem:

A recent report concludes that Sustainable Development Goals (Verdensmålene) open new business opportunities for Danish companies up to DKK 400 billion. But how do you get started as a manager and company?

The big ones are well underway
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or just SDGs for short, were agreed upon by heads of state and governmental leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York on 25 September 2015. Subsequently, these Sustainable Development Goals have been a substantial source of inspiration for many companies with regard to their strategy work, business development, specific action plans and, especially, their communication and marketing.

For many of the trendsetting companies in Denmark, the Sustainable Development Goals have simply become a part of the foundation under the company, under their identity and under their communication. Besides everything else, it appears that, for these companies, it is at least as much about making a real and positive difference for the world we live in as it is about exploiting the market potential the SDGs open up.  That pleases me beyond words because anything else would be almost impossible to endure...

For example, Ørsted is determinedly working on running its business in a way that contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals. The energy company has identified 12 goals out of the 17 as those they will work with, including Goal No. 7: Affordable and Clean Energy and Goal No. 13: Climate Action. Rockwool has also chosen to conduct its business activities with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals. 10 have been selected. Vestas has chosen 6 global goals that they will work with and for – and Danfoss has selected 4 global goals that relate to their core business.

A company such as Grundfos similarly chose early on to put a focused spotlight on Goal No. 6: Clean Water and Sanitation and Goal No. 13: Climate Action. Among other things, they did that in terms of communication by challenging the public to do “the wave” every time goals numbers 6 and 13 were scored during the men’s handball world championship tournament in Germany and Denmark (see them again here: #goal6and13).

In other words, we can agree that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are already a part of everyday life in some Danish companies, and that is not by coincidence. For many Danish companies, it just makes sense to get a share of the Sustainable Development Goal-related business opportunities within well-known Danish core competencies such as, for example, food products, water, energy, innovation, design, and technology.  That could amount to 60 billion DKK annually in 2030 according to estimates in a report prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs. So that is a big amount we’re talking about, but, as many of the companies mentioned above are also aware of, it is a long-range strategy to run a business in a way that contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Brain, heart, and credibility
New business opportunities worth 400 billion DKK obviously sound alluring, and some will surely be tempted to spread the word around about these goals and also the burning-hot climate agenda. When it comes to communication and marketing, though, you have to, you know, tread a little cautiously. As a company, you’re only credible, you see, if the whole platform is in place. If you want to talk about sustainability, the Sustainable Development Goals, and climate, you have to make sure that the company’s core business, products, and behavior support this agenda. If it does not, you risk scoring an own goal of great dimensions. And, moreover, there should also preferably be additional motivational factors in the company other than just vile mammon to run an SDG agenda if it is to be truly credible and engaging, in my opinion.

Here’s how to get started
The communications and strategy firm Operate has dropped 6 good pieces of advice for companies and authorities that want to work in a focused way on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Since I, in the first place, agree with their views and, moreover, can’t formulate them better myself, I will allow myself to cite these pieces of advice for inspiration:

1. Do an introductory run-through of the 17 global goals and 169 targets in relation to which of them are relevant for you.

2. Include an analysis of the possibilities of working with sustainability, poss. a stakeholder analysis, in which you examine your stakeholders’ expectations of sustainability.

3. Set up credible and tangible goals for your work with the Sustainable Development Goals, and communicate them. That can be done in CSR reports and annual reports.

4. Mobilize citizens, suppliers, customers and users in meeting your Sustainable Development Goal ambitions.

5. Create partnerships with other companies, authorities, and organizations in order to elevate your Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

6. Design Sustainable Development Goals branding, in which words and action go hand-in-hand – but it must never become “SDG washing”. That will be seen through and punished by customers and partners.