From climate change and poverty, to gender inequality and plastic waste, we are facing serious global issues that need to be tackled immediately. In September 2015, to help overcome these challenges the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a blueprint to create a more prosperous future for all.
And in order to achieve the SDGs, the whole world — from developing countries to industrialised countries, governments, corporations, and individuals — must come together and take action.
On 3 July 2019, UNU organised the symposium Integrating the SDGs with Business. With more than 300 participants including students, company employees, corporate executives, and topical experts, the symposium focused on how companies can strategically implement the SDGs and related environmental, social, and governance initiatives.
At the symposium, companies who are members of the SDG Corporate Strategy Forum — launched at UNU headquarters in Tokyo in October 2017 — shared their findings on how to integrate the SDGs into their corporate plans. The event also included a series of keynote lectures and a panel discussion to examine how companies can contribute to creating a sustainable society.
Looking back on the symposium, UNU Senior Vice-Rector Professor Taikan Oki noted the wide range of participants, saying: “I think there were a lot of people interested in the SDGs themselves as well as how the fundamental nature of companies pursuing profit and social justice like the SDGs meet and not contradict one another.”
The SDG acronym has become quite well-known in Japan as both the public and private sectors have made various efforts to promote and achieve the goals. The Japanese government, for example, has set up the “SDGs Promotion Headquarters” led by the prime minister, and issues related to the SDGs have garnered growing media attention. The organising committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games has also emphasised the importance of sustainability.
Meanwhile, Prof. Oki, who joined UNU in October 2016 and concurrently serves as UN Assistant Secretary-General, had been interested in strengthening corporate measures to achieve the SDGs. Together with Takatsugu Kitajima, a lawyer with TMI Associates, Prof. Oki proposed his idea to 20 companies and launched the SDG Corporate Strategy Forum.
“It is important for companies to pursue profit; without it they are not sustainable. At the same time, however, it is clear that companies are supported by the sustainability of society,” Prof Oki pointed out. “We have found that businesses cannot thrive without a rich and sustainable society where people can invest in good services and products.”
Members of the forum currently meet every other month and invite experts to give lectures on a variety of topics from environmental issues to nursing support for the elderly in an aging society. Hoping to share the knowledge and experience generated through the forum with companies all around Japan, Prof. Oki emphasised that:
“The best scenario would be for companies to be able to contribute to creating a sustainable society by providing products and services that make people happy.
“At the same time, we also need to create a society in which gender imbalance, unreasonable disparity, and child labor are not tolerated, and ensure that products created through processes that damage the environment and violate human rights are not distributed through the supply chain.”