SDG pioneers 2021
SDG pioneers 1st row from left to right: Giulia Giuffrè, Karine Bueno, Leonie Vaas, 2nd row: Robert Okine, Darian McBain, Sonay Aykan, 3rd row: Mireille Chrabieh, Alan Cuddihy, Anton Butmanov, 4th row: Sumant Sinha

Virtual confetti trickles across the screen, on which ten smiling faces can be seen. Five women and five men wave into the cameras, after 25 seconds their performance is over again. This is how award ceremonies work in pandemic times: Without handing over personal certificates, shaking hands or classic group photos, there is at least some excitement and variety in the home office.

SDG pioneers: ten trailblazers

The virtually celebrated were still happy. Since being honored in June, they have been able to call themselves “SDG Pioneers 2021”, an award given to them by the United Nations Global Compact. The world's largest network for corporate responsibility (see also the corporAID portrait "Compass instead of criticism") annually selects ten executives from a large number of international applicants. Those selected this year come from all continents and work for companies of various sizes and industries: Lebanese Mireille Chrabieh, for example, is an expert in special education and heads a learning institute in Beirut, while the Turk Sonay Aykan works as Global Sustainability Manager at the US company Colgate-Palmolive and Robert Okine is CEO of the IT company Bewsys in Ghana (see Interview). 

What the managers have in common in the eyes of the jury: They all respect the ten principles of the UN Global Compact on human rights, the environment, labor and the fight against corruption and, moreover, make an extraordinary contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals SDGwhich aims to eradicate extreme poverty (SDG 2030), achieve equality (SDG 1) and decisively counteract climate change (SDG 5) by 13.

SDG pioneer for innovation & inclusion
Robert Okine
Robert Okine is CEO of the IT consultancy Bewsys (Better World Systems) in Ghana. In partnership with governments, development organizations and NGOs, it develops software solutions for use in 60 developing countries. Among other things, the company supports the establishment of efficient social assistance systems, harvest monitoring, the harmonization of medical data and the detection of landmines.
SDG pioneer for sustainable finance
Karine Bueno
Karine Bueno, Sustainability Officer at Banco Santander in Brazil, is committed to the greater integration of social and ecological issues into the bank's business strategies. This is achieved, for example, through innovative financing products for solar systems, ESG-linked loans (with differentiated interest rates that are linked to the fulfillment of environmental, governance or social goals) or with microfinance programs for SMEs.
SDG pioneer for responsible production
Leonie Vaas
Leonie Vaas, sustainability manager at the textile manufacturer Hayleys Fabric in Sri Lanka, has developed an innovative dyeing method called SustainabiliTea. The natural solution obtained from waste from tea production is used to color fabrics and is an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical coloring agents. The method also lowers water and energy consumption in fabric production. Vaas is also promoting the use of polyester from recycled PET bottles.

Responsibility in the core business

Perhaps the current crisis has sharpened the focus on sustainability in one company or another. According to a recent survey by the UN Global Compact, 79 percent of the CEOs surveyed believe that the pandemic has highlighted the need for more sustainable business models. 62 percent stated that the pressure to act has already increased sharply in the past three years, and 73 percent expect it to increase even further in the future. 

The SDG pioneers are likely to have set the course for this long ago. They all emphasize that they are using the 17 goals to create new business models, create positive effects and identify risks. For example, the SDG pioneer for sustainable financing, Karine Bueno, actively steers the financing products of Banco Santander in Brazil towards sustainability. This succeeds in the loan portfolio, for example, with differentiated interest rates that are linked to the fulfillment of environmental, governance or social goals. 

SDG pioneer for innovative education
Mireille Chrabieh
Special education expert Mireille Chrabieh is co-founder and managing director of Special Miles in Lebanon, an educational institution for children and young adults with learning difficulties and special needs. Your organization supports the students in the development of their potential, their social integration, in finding a career and in financial independence. Special Miles works closely with parents and teachers.
SDG pioneer for a low carbon future
Anton Butmanov
Anton Butmanov is director for sustainability at the Russian EN + Group, one of the - according to its own statements - most environmentally friendly aluminum producers in the world. Butmanov is working to ensure that the group will meet around 2025 percent of its energy needs for aluminum production from hydropower and other clean energy sources by 95. He is also responsible for the construction of a research center on Lake Baikal, which should make a significant contribution to the protection of the world's largest freshwater lake.
SDG pioneer for circular economy
Alan Cuddihy
Alan Cuddihy is Vice President Sustainability at PCH International. The Irish company develops products and supply chains for international brands and already pays attention to sustainability standards, recyclability and consumer-driven demand for materials and processes, so that fewer products have to be stored. PCH also works with NGOs to improve working conditions in the supply chain.

The pioneer for responsible production, Leonie Vaas from Hayleys Fabric in Sri Lanka, has in turn developed a textile dye from tea waste and thus an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical dyes, while Alan Cuddihy, SDG pioneer for circular economy, advises brand manufacturers as Vice President of PCH International in Ireland as they already consider environmental friendliness and recyclability in the design of new products.

What concrete impact the ten managers actually achieve in achieving the 2030 Agenda can hardly be assessed. Sanda Ojiambo, head of the UN Global Compact, hopes "that they inspire others to join them and work for a better world". 

SDG pioneer for sustainable marine economy
Darian McBain
Darian McBain, Director of Sustainability at Thai Union, takes care of responsible procurement at the global fishing group. These include, for example, standards for the traceability of fish and seafood along the entire supply chain, codes of conduct and the control of suppliers in order to improve the working and living conditions of fishermen on ships, as well as initiatives to reduce litter in the sea.
SDG pioneer for sustainable water management
Giulia Giuffrè
Giulia Giuffrè is responsible for sustainability at Irritec SpA from Italy, an international provider of agricultural irrigation systems. Among other things, the company has developed the Agri-Lab training program, which supports African smallholders in using drip irrigation to reduce the use of water in agriculture and still increase their harvests. The irrigation system can be easily transported and set up by laypeople.

More ambition asked

The Global Compact has been appealing to its members for more sustainability in business since its inception in 2000. Around 13.800 companies from 162 countries, from Afghanistan to Cyprus, have now joined the voluntary network, more than 3.000 members have joined since the previous year alone. the Austrian branch, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, has 138 participants - this year, for example, Semperit, UBM, Borealis, Vienna Insurance Group, Innio and Altstoff Recycling Austria decided to take part. 

Sanda Ojiambo, who took over the role of Executive Director of the UN Global Compact in June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and has since endeavored to significantly increase the effectiveness of the network, is delighted by the large number of visitors. Like her predecessor Lise Kingo, she also clearly states that there are gaps between the expressions of will of some companies and the commitment actually shown. 

SDG pioneer for energy transition and equality
Sumant Sinha
Sumant Sinha is the founder of ReNew Power, one of the largest renewable energy producers in India. According to Sinha, his company has an operating capacity of more than five gigawatts and, thanks to wind and solar power, supplies one percent of the country's total electricity. In particular, ReNew Power ensures access to electricity in remote regions and also promotes basic digital education and entrepreneurial know-how for Indian women.
SDG pioneer for sustainable goal setting
Sonay Aykan
Sonay Aykan, Global Sustainability Manager at the US household and care products company Colgate-Palmolive, works with thousands of employees and suppliers worldwide to identify SDG-relevant risks and opportunities. Aykan developed a “roadmap for extended engagement”, with which indirect emissions from purchased services are to be reduced substantially. The group wants to operate in a climate-neutral manner by 2040.

With a strategic plan presented at the beginning of the year, Ojiambo now wants to ensure that membership in the UN Global Compact is not only sought for PR reasons. For example, the plan provides for companies to be more accountable so that their progress can be better measured. The strategy also calls for more commitment in the five focus areas of equality (SDG 5), decent work (SDG 8), climate protection (SDG 13), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16) and partnerships (SDG 17). In the future, the members should receive tailor-made recommendations for their journey towards sustainability. 

Incidentally, the UN Global Compact offers a lot of practical support on this path - for example that SDG Ambition program, which accompanies the company for half a year in formulating ambitious strategies and concrete measures. 600 companies from 65 countries are already actively involved - and will hopefully produce new generations of SDG pioneers.


Photos: Screenshot Youtoube / UNGC, Bewsys, This is Engineering, Dominic Chavez / World Bank (2), Mike Mozart / Flickr, Alex Berger / Flickr, John Hogg / World Bank, Wikimedia, Randy Tarampi / Flickr, Jutta Benzenberg / World Bank, UN Global Compact