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.
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.
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".
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.
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.