"What's your favorite sustainable development goal?" joked John Elkington, the writer, thinker and serial entrepreneur who coined the triple bottom line concept in 1997, who moderated a Tuesday panel on aligning the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with strategy, goal-setting and innovation at SB’16 Copenhagen.
Panelists included sustainability leaders from BASF, Aker BioMarine, and Covestro, as well as Sabine Oberhuber, co-founder of TurnToo - a company dedicated to assisting other companies in developing and implementing circular business models.
"We decided to make our own office a Cradle to Cradle showcase," Oberhuber said. "In doing so, we learned no one cares if they are not there at the end of the product life cycle. So, we asked Philips to give us light and not lamps."
Oberhuber believes that stagnant business models are one of the biggest roadblocks to achieving the SDGs. By placing the responsibility on Philips to manage the service versus the product, it shifted the relationship between them as partners and created a new way of doing business.
Cilia Indahl, director of sustainability at Aker BioMarine, noted a similar example in the way the 13-year-old Norwegian fishing company works with suppliers. The company maps carbon use throughout the supply chain and takes an industry-level view of aquaculture sustainability. This kind of partnership relates to a cluster of SDGs on sustainable management of water, production and conservation.
Richard Northcote is Chief Sustainability Officer at Covestro - a position which he says in and of itself demonstrates the company's commitment to sustainability. Covestro is a spinout formed in 2015 from Bayer that is now a leading supplier of high-tech polymers.
"Climate change is the one we have to get right," Northcote said. Covestro has developed a strategy rooted in carbon return on investment that is fully supported by its CEO and CFO as core to delivering on the company's mission.
Talke Schaffrannek, director of applied sustainability at BASF, also pointed out the importance of integrating sustainability with the core of the business. In her role, she works with different divisions to map their current business to the SDGs and identify innovation opportunities to improve their performance in key areas.
Elkington again pointed out that the idea is not to pick a single SDG. The most effective companies will be those who prioritize a few of the goals that are most relevant to their business. And the most effective leaders will be those who espouse an overall respect for a business's role in community and responsibility to the Earth.