No items found.
From Commitment to Action: The US Private Sector's Role in Advancing the SDGs
news update

From Commitment to Action: The US Private Sector's Role in Advancing the SDGs

September 14, 2023

In a remarkable display of global unity, the world united eight years ago to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to forge a more equitable and sustainable world by 2030. As we reach the midpoint of this journey, a stark reality is apparent: there remains much ground to cover. The challenges posed by climate change, entrenched inequalities, and systemic corruption have hindered progress.

Businesses were crucial stakeholders in shaping the SDGs and remain equally important in propelling them towards realization. The call to use their collective power in advancing the SDGs will be accentuated at this year's UN General Assembly, particularly at the 2023 SDG Summit USA, the UN Global Compact Network USA’s annual flagship event. This Summit will congregate over 200 influential leaders from US companies, government, and the UN. The Summit's mission is to raise awareness and promote practical business action and partnerships within the American private sector to achieve the SDGs.

UN Global Compact Network USA recently spoke with Board Chair Daniella Foster on the goals of the 2023 SDG Summit USA, the critical role the US private sector plays in advancing the SDGs, and how companies can move from commitment to action.


What are the primary objectives that UN Global Compact Network USA aims to achieve through the 2023 SDG Summit USA?

I saw a headline in Nature that really spoke to me: “There is no Planet B and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are heading for the rocks.”  These “rocks” are plentiful – between a global pandemic, geo-political turmoil, war and many other concurrent perma-crises.

We want to leverage the 2023 SDG Summit USA as an opportunity for the private sector to come together with public stakeholders, including government, UN officials and civil society professionals to figure out how we can work together to overcome these “rocks” to drive big impact over the next 5 years.

Our US Network alone has more than 1,000 signatories taking part, representing $5 trillion in revenue. Let me repeat that - $5 trillion! That’s scale.  That’s resources.  That’s the opportunity to take the private sectors’ leadership in innovation, technology and resources and leverage it to tackle pressing global challenges and share solutions with the world.

This year’s SDG Summit USA will serve as a platform for candid conversations about the evolution of corporate sustainability in the U.S. – what’s working, what’s not – with a strong focus on partnership.  No one entity can solve these big world problems.  We need to start working unconventionally – think working pre-competitively or across industries - to achieve the SDGs

How can US businesses leverage their participation with UN Global Compact Network USA to make meaningful progress towards the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals in 2023?

There are many ways businesses can take part.  Going back to my “rocks” analogy, we all have them within our organizations, too – those barriers from funding to management commitment that stand in our way of driving our companies to help make progress against the SDGs.  UNGC is here to help with those.

And it’s a rockier time than it has even been.  One of the unique opportunities within UNGC compared with many other sustainability-focused organizations is that we provide a safe lane for dialogue, bringing people together across different industries, sectors and perspectives, enabling us to chart a path forward together.

One of my favorite programs geared to helping overcome barriers is the Accelerators, which is great for companies that are earlier on in their sustainability journey.  This is an in-depth, six-month educational program that’s specifically designed to create behavior change – helping to embed sustainability into business operations and across the value chain.

We also offer so many educational and networking events. It’s important to come together with other company leaders who share a common commitment to responsible and sustainable business practices.

Given your leadership role in corporate sustainability, what strategies can American businesses employ in 2023 to maximize their impact on people and the planet?

First and foremost, one of the most important strategies a company can employ is to embed sustainability into the business.  It shouldn’t be a separate strategy.  At Bayer, we don’t have a separate business and sustainability strategy – these are one in the same and aligned and championed by our board of management.

That means that our sustainability goals are aligned with our business goals, so it becomes incumbent on everyone to help create the impact we want to have. This ensures the model is sustainable, that we’re not just giving away products or doing cause marketing programs, but that we’re building a business model that drives both societal impact and business success simultaneously. It also helps remove contradictions.

The other advice I’d share is to focus on what’s most material to your business, your value chain and the communities you operate.  You have to tackle the issues that your organization can meaningfully contribute to, to be authentic and impactful – for both the world and to drive business growth. For instance, at Bayer, we set three 100 million challenges focused on improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, expanding access to self-care solutions in underserved communities and expanding access to modern contraception in LMICs.  These are in service of SDGs 2 (no hunger), 3 (health for all) and 5 (gender equality) respectively, but are all also in line with our business goals.   

What hurdles might US businesses encounter in its pursuit of supporting sustainable development and the SDGs?

Greenwashing is certainly a big “rock.” While this issue has never been black and white, it’s become even more complex, with higher stakes over the last year or so.

We’re seeing regulators accelerating actions to better define what is and is not sustainable, to build transparency in financial markets so that investors and other stakeholders can work from a common language and more efficiently make better business decisions.

One concern with some of these policies, is that upping the standards may be seen as a barrier to making progress. Regulators are accelerating the push for more transparency, more and higher quality data, and demonstrated progress against commitments.  Given the maturity of corporate sustainability can vary widely, many companies are going to find it difficult to meet these increased regulatory standards.

Companies are responding to these greater demands by investing large sums to revise their strategy, update their data management practices and accelerate their reporting capabilities to be compliant with the regulations and meet the demands of investors and customers. Meeting these short-term stressors with increased investments can, however, cause companies to divert dollars away from achieving the environmental and social goals to which they’ve already committed and that should drive business growth and profitability.

Another way some companies are responding is green hushing – companies are minimizing or stopping communicating goals are progress to avoid litigation risks associated with greenwashing.

Despite these market challenges, it’s good to see that most companies are still moving ahead and executing against their public commitments on things like health equity, decarbonization, and plastic waste, and continuing to communicate transparently about their actions, successes and failings. And because of the magnitude of the challenges, collective action becomes critical.  We need to work together to find common solutions.  

How can companies leverage 2023 to make up for hindered progress and actively create measures to ensure a productive and impactful course over the next seven years?

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged countries to "Make 2023 count," and this imperative extends to the private sector. Collaboration is going to be key. The UNGC provides a safe lane for us to work across typical lines to act both pragmatically and unconventionally to work together to accelerate our progress.

Daniella Foster is the Executive Board Member & SVP, Public Affairs, Science & Sustainability, Consumer Health of Bayer, and she Chairs the UN Global Compact Network USA Board of Directors.

All updates