24 September 2020, Geneva, Switzerland - On 24 September 2020, 50 participants took part in a four-hour webinar on the topic “Sustainable Development Goals in the Private Sector”, organized and implemented by UNITAR and the Global Institute of Excellence in Hong Kong.  In a short introduction, UNITAR’s executive director Nikil Seth explained how the Sustainable Development Goals and the private sector are ultimately connected and how the business sector has an immense influence on the impact of climate change and the ecological footprint. Especially now, in the midst of a global pandemic, Mr. Seth highlighted the urgent need to take action against the climate crisis and focus on water and energy efficiency, the protection of biodiversity, gender equality, sustainable infrastructures and much more.

UN Photo/ Manuel Elisa

Representing the UN Global Compact (UNGC), Mr. Angus Rennie gave an overview over the UNGC’s work, the connection between the private sector and the SDGs and the role of COVID in his presentation “Responsible Business and the SDGs”. He explained how the UN Global Compact, brought forward mainly by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan with the goal to bring a human face to the market, is active in 160 countries worldwide and aims to build a bridge between the climate sector and the UN on the ground of shared values and principles.

In a discussion-style presentation, EY Ireland Senior Manager Mr. Nicola Ruane and BEC advisor Ms. Nadira Lamrad discussed how the private sector plays a role in realizing the SDGs, what the biggest challenges, key issues and megatrends are and which key internal and external drivers help most in improving corporate sustainability performance. Both agreed on the immense importance of the private sector to realize SDGs and highlighted how including sustainability in a company actually holds many opportunities and creates value. They also touched upon challenges this sector is facing, like lack of transparency and expertise, demographic shifts and changes, the short-term style of the market and, more recently, COVID-19.

Ms. Bella Landymore, Policy Director at the non-profit organization Impact Investing Institute, introduced the topic of impact investing in her presentation. She pointed out how responsible investing only made a very small part of today’s market, although it holds many opportunities and chances – generally, but also financially. She highlighted how impact investing has been growing over the last years and how companies can profit from it while also focussing on a positive outcome and acknowledging the impact an investment can have.

As the last speaker of the conference, Manager of “Empathy Sustainability” and former Coca-Cola sustainability representative Mr. Jake Backus focussed on challenges and chances of sustainability for businesses and companies. He pointed out how the Sustainable Development Goals can be difficult for business to work with and to see what actually needs to be done, given the complexity of the current developments and the sustainability aspect that can be a barrier for companies to take action. He encouraged to not necessarily see this complexity and the systemic risk that comes with it as a barrier, but rather to embrace it and to see the opportunities it holds. Emphasizing on the need to act, Mr. Backus pointed out the importance of not only doing less harm to the environment, but to act restoratively and take personal responsibility and ended the conference with a citation from climate activist and  polar explorer Mr. Robert Swan: “The greatest threat to the planet is the belief that someone else will save it”.

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