Since their launch in September of 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals have excited both CSR and purpose-minded communities, while also serving as a matrix of narratives that can ensure brand relevance if delivered on correctly and honestly.
To review, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals outlined by the U.N. and address key areas of development — including education, poverty, clean water, climate change, and clean energy, among many others. To achieve just one of these goals, say number 12 — ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns — can be a massive, even generational undertaking by a business. But the simple act of making an intention to change, and then shifting your company’s behavior to reflect that stated change, can unlock massive storytelling potential for your brand as it helps create the future it wants to own. And it’s vitally important that you can stand behind the story (or stories) you’re telling. Today’s consumers are more eager than ever to embrace brands they see doing good out in the world, but are just as quick to mobilize against those that aren’t. It may seem obvious, but if you’re going to talk the talk, it’s essential you walk the walk.
One brand doing an excellent job of aligning their business objectives around not just some, but all 17 of the SDGs is German software giant SAP. Though addressing all 17 SDGs may sound daunting, a large part of SAP’s brand identity is making the complex “run simple” so going after each SDG speaks to the bigger picture of what their unique product and service offerings. In fact, SAP is able to tie one of its products or services to each of the 17 SDGs, creating an incredible amount of narratives that showcase the company’s capabilities across a variety of categories, all while having a positive impact on people and planet. Of course, your company may not lend itself to such a comprehensive reach, and that’s ok, as I said earlier, even addressing one SDG where you feel your brand can really have make a difference becomes part of a bigger picture of forward-thinking companies all out there doing good. The key thing to remember is to align around a goal, or goals, consistent with who you are as a brand, and that you can be sure to deliver on with honest results.
Ultimately, SDGs are an opportunity for brands to work together in the true spirit of servant leadership and open collaboration to achieve results at a scale that will benefit all participants and society. An example of this co-operative system comes from the Caterpillar Foundation, which seeks to address a variety of global issues, includingpoverty. Rather than a piecemeal or fragmented approach that sees a variety of entities working in silos, Caterpillar is looking to leverage the combined expertise of all groups for a unifying multiplier effect that can cause real change. Given that the SDGs outlined by the U.N. transcend borders and affect every member of the planet, it’s essential we foster and cultivate meaningful partnerships that utilize all that we have to offer each other. In doing so, we can find exciting new ways to solve problems, develop solutions and create a brighter future.
For brands to be successful in the rapidly shifting and increasingly transparent global economy, they can’t be seen as mere takers or exploiters of people and places. It is essential that they engage in a sustainable, responsible model, or suffer the consequences of a technology-empowered populace and consumer base. The brands that will ultimately thrive will be those that are relevant and meaningful to people’s lives, and the ones whose elevated values and aspirations reflect those of their consumers. By aligning your business’ purpose around the SDGs, whether it’s one, seventeen, or somewhere in between, you can be sure you’re positioning your company for meaningful collaboration and sustainable growth.
Image via Flickr courtesy of user Richard Heaven at https://flic.kr/p/6rQFTY