Every September, world leaders gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. It's the week of countless official sessions, informal meetings and politician handshakes. Perhaps less well known, hundreds of top executives and executives also travel to the US metropolis each year in early autumn to attend the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. This is a CEO meeting hosted by the UN Business Network - one of which, as Global Compact CEO Lise Kingo proudly declares, "with 9.500 members the world's largest initiative for sustainable entrepreneurship". Members - including Palfinger, Raiffeisen Bank International and Swiss Post in Austria - are committed to upholding the ten Global Compact principles in the areas of labor standards, human rights, environmental protection and the fight against corruption.

For three years they have also been challenged: According to the UN appeal, companies should contribute to the implementation of the “Agenda 2030” as part of their business activities and with innovative products and services. What is meant is that ambitious package of 17 Sustainable Development Goals SDG, which the world community agreed on in September 2015. It is something like a Plan of Action for a Better World that aims to eradicate extreme poverty, protect the planet's resources, and achieve health and prosperity for everyone by 2030.

Fit for the future

Paul Polman, Unilever
Paul Polman, Unilever

One participant in the Leaders Summit 2018 was Paul Polman. The charismatic CEO of the Dutch-British Unilever Group is a tireless advocate of global goals, and once again he shared his message to colleagues: "Only companies that contribute to the implementation of the SDG have a purpose. Who does not want to be a dinosaur, but sustainable, is well advised to serve the SDG. There is no need for moral reasons. It's the biggest business opportunity in history. "Polman addresses the huge worldwide demand for infrastructure and energy, healthcare services, education and housing. Future-oriented companies can use the 17 goals to identify areas of action in order to reduce negative impacts on the environment and society and to increase positive effects. This in turn may result in new corporate strategies and market opportunities.

At least companies within the Global Compact network are likely to actually deal with the goals. According to the progress report presented in New York, for which a thousand member companies were surveyed, 80 percent are already integrating the SDGs into their business strategy. And, Kingo is happy to say, “this argument happens at a high level, because 68 percent of the board members are personally involved in the development”. Polman also praises the fact that the SDGs are increasingly becoming the reference framework for companies. “So we're heading in the right direction,” he says, “but from today's perspective, many of the 2030 goals will not be achieved by 17. It is therefore a matter of increasing the speed and size of the activities significantly. "

The added value in view

According to the Global Compact, achieving one of the 2030 agendas at the corporate level requires one thing in particular: convinced managers who ideally inspire others. In New York, therefore, a series of so-called SDG Pioneers were brought before the curtain: Top managers who, according to Kingo, feel committed to the 2030 agenda and successfully combine entrepreneurial action and social added value.

A jury selected ten pioneers from 150 applications (see short portraits below) and clearly made sure to map the spectrum of SDG-affine managers as broadly as possible: Six women and four men were selected who work for companies of different sizes and industries in all parts of the world: for global corporations such as Suez, BASF and L'Oréal, for regional players such as the Indonesian cosmetics group Martha Tilaar or the Lebanese postal company LibanPost as well as for smaller companies in the humanitarian sector (Committed to Good) and for social enterprises (such as Winya Indigenous Furniture) .

The SDG as a opportunities catalog

Leaders Summit Leaders discuss the role of companies in society
Leaders Summit: Executives exchange views on the role of companies in society

In one, all ten pioneers agree: Corporate responsibility must take place in the company itself. For example, Teressa Szelest, North American manager of the German chemical giant BASF, recommends: "Companies should focus on their value chains and identify opportunities with customers and other stakeholders. Together, partnerships can be built to foster innovation, sustainability and climate change. "The chemical industry in particular offers many innovative solutions for sustainable development, says Szelest. The Group is now actively steering its product portfolio towards sustainability and is also seeking innovation partnerships in search of new solutions.

Hanaa Helmy, CSR manager of the Egyptian financial services firm EFG Hermes and head of the foundation of the same name, is also convinced that the global goals should flow directly into the business strategy. "Many people may think that an SDG orientation leads to losses, but the opposite is true, it increases profits. With us, the SDGs are taken into account in all investment decisions, which helps us with risk management and the identification of opportunities. "

Noticeable: more than half of the selected SDG Pioneers are mainly involved in the professional integration of women. As Martha Tilaar, Grande Dame of the Indonesian cosmetics industry, defines women's empowerment as the central task of her Tilaar Group. Or Khalil Daoud, CEO of the Lebanese Post Office, who uses women at all levels of the company's hierarchy and sees it as a contribution against cultural prejudice: that is "particularly important in a region where women are denied rights."

More pioneers

Asked how more companies can be made to achieve the Global Sustainable Development Goals, Paul Polman suggests that companies should work more closely with their suppliers and industry organizations, with "the real lever to more impact."

Incidentally, the topic of “Partnerships for achieving the SDG” is on the agenda of a CEO roundtable, to which the Austrian Global Compact network invites on November 8, 2018 at the United Nations in Vienna. This event should help to place the SDG in the boardrooms of domestic companies. Perhaps a future SDG pioneer from Austria is already taking part?

The 10 SDG Pioneers 2018

Innovative solutions for sustainable water supply and climate protection

Teressa Szelest, responsible for Market & Business Development at the German chemical company BASF, relies on more sustainability in the portfolio: Accelerator products are new solutions - from cleaners to lightweight plastics to cement mixtures - with a substantial contribution to sustainability (e.g. resource efficiency)

Climate protection through resource efficiency in water and waste management

Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of the French water and waste company Suez, has launched a five-year sustainable development roadmap to provide millions of people with clean water and sanitation. In order to preserve valuable resources, Chaussade relies heavily on the circular economy.

Advanced business ethics

Emmanuel Lulin, Chief Ethics Officer for French cosmetics giant L'Oréal, has developed a comprehensive ethics strategy that aligns the Group's ethics, diversity, CSR and philanthropy programs with the SDG. Lulin is also responsible for the first anti-corruption program, a whistleblowing website and the Group Human Rights Committee.

Green infrastructure and low-carbon economy

Esther An is Chief Sustainability Officer of real estate developer City Developments Limited CDL in Singapore. It is committed to green building and compliance with sustainability principles at CDL and in the international real estate industry. At developed for CDL an action plan for the concrete conversion of ten SDG.

Promoting social development

Hanaa Helmy has developed guidelines for sustainable and responsible investment for the Egyptian financial services provider EFG Hermes, as well as a foundation for social development focused on poverty alleviation, disease prevention and youth development. Helmy also campaigns for the SDG on the Egyptian stock exchange.

Gender equality and economic integration

Khalil Daoud is CEO of LibanPost. The Lebanese postal company hires women in all hierarchical levels, from delivery service to top management. LibanPost offers more than traditional postal services: Citizens can also handle financial transactions and government channels at LibanPost branches across the country - helping to reduce the risk of corruption.

Promoting sustainability through community engagement

Martha Tilaar, founder of the cosmetics company of the same name in Indonesia, offers training and jobs to women from low-income families, thus preventing them from being exploited by traffickers. It also educates small farmers in organic agriculture and is committed to preserving medicinal and cosmetic plants in Indonesia.

Economic strengthening of the indigenous population

Greg Welsh is CEO of Australian office furniture manufacturer Winya Indigenous Furniture. Winya employs members of the low-income indigenous population of Australia. In the office, it is mostly women, furniture manufacturers, inhabitants of remote villages and prisoners. In addition, the company is developing recyclable office furniture.

Empowerment of women in conflict areas

Alice Laugher is CEO of Committed to Good CTG based in the United Arab Emirates. CTG provides physicians, drivers, security personnel and other experts in humanitarian projects in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. Through training and awareness programs, Laugher manages to raise the proportion of women in humanitarian operations on an ongoing basis.

Support for female refugees

Danielle Pieroni is Chief Operating Officer of the Brazilian job broker Foxtime Recursos Humanos. Foxtime only gives applicants to companies with fair working conditions and especially promotes the recruitment of women. Pieroni also runs a program to help female refugees in search of formal employment.

Photos: Joel Sheakoski / UN Global Compact