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Deloitte BrandVoice: Protecting Our Future: Moving From Talk To Action On The Sustainable Development Goals

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Reflecting on this year’s UN General Assembly week, I was particularly struck by one resounding theme echoed by world leaders, philanthropists, business executives, and the media: progress is not occurring fast enough to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the next decade, and urgent action is needed now to change the current trajectory.

This conclusion is reinforced by the 2019 Social Progress Index (SPI), which reveals that while progress has been made in certain areas, the SDGs are unlikely to be reached before 2073 – a staggering 43 years later than the original goal of 2030.

While talk of the SDGs has not yet translated into action at the necessary pace, I am encouraged by a few recent trends that I believe can help spur real change: business leaders are more engaged, young people are taking to the streets to make their voices heard, topics around climate change and inclusion are dominating the news, and there is a growing sense of urgency to act.  

I believe the business community, government, and civil society together have the opportunity to use this new momentum to change the trajectory of the SDGs. This is also where I believe SPI can be the differentiator as a critical measure of a country’s well-being on aspects of social and environmental progress. As the 2019 SPI notes, “there [is] a growing expectation that business must play its role in delivering improvements in the lives of customers and employees, and protecting the environment for us all.”

Businesses and industries more broadly should also play to their strengths and work together as an ecosystem to make meaningful, collective progress against the SDGs. For Deloitte, that means we are focused—among other areas—on inclusiveness, access to education, and environmental quality, three core elements of the SPI framework.

Advancing Inclusivity

Inclusivity with a focus on gender equality is a topic very close to my heart. Today, women continue to face significant barriers to equality. Women still do the vast majority of unpaid work in the home, and workplace cultures are often out of date and not designed to accommodate the needs of women. Unconscious bias is pervasive and often goes unaddressed. All these factors—and more—result in a significant pipeline problem in business: there are just not enough women making it to senior leadership roles. While more women than ever have primary and secondary degrees, there are still only six female CEOs in the UK’s FTSE 100 and only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

As part of Deloitte’s goal of building a workforce for the future, we are making efforts to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in leadership ranks across the global network.

In general, there are a number of tangible actions that the business community can take to address this issue. The most important is to create a truly inclusive culture, which has to be led from the top—the CEO, C-suite, and the Board—and requires action on multiple fronts. Examples include: working to reduce bias in existing processes and practices, inclusivity training, doubling down on recruitment efforts, rolling out sponsorship programs, introducing workplace flexibility and, importantly, measuring progress against goals. Considering the business world’s significant influence on society, these actions could help move the needle on gender equality and broader inclusion in other areas of life as well.

Increasing Access To Education

Globally, millions of people are being left behind, unable to fulfil their aspirations and potential. They lack the education, skills, and training needed to succeed. This leads to widening inequality, declining productivity, and rising social tensions.

The implementation of advanced technologies in the workplace could widen the skills gaps even further. However, the business community can help today’s youth prepare for the future by engaging in public policy to help influence policies focused on education, investing in workforce skilling, and implementing societal impact programs focused on education and training for the skills needed to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Deloitte is doing just that through WorldClass, our network-wide commitment to preparing 50 million people worldwide to succeed in the new economy by helping them develop new skills, improve educational outcomes, and provide opportunities to succeed in the modern work world.

Enhancing Environmental Quality

Every day, we see new complications related to climate change jeopardizing our way of life. Without action, our world and people will continue to suffer and the trend could be irreversible. Businesses can step in and do their part in lowering carbon emissions standards in line with the Paris agreement, and indeed given the challenge issued at UNGA, commit to additional goals. Many businesses today, including Deloitte, have set specific reduction goals for building and fleet emissions, as well as business travel to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Key stakeholders—including clients, customers, and employees—are starting to demand that businesses take action now. Deloitte Global’s 2019 Millennial Survey highlights that climate change and the environment are the top personal concerns among millennials and Gen Z, a crucial swath of today’s workers. Increasingly, having sustainable business practices is a critical piece of attracting and retaining the best talent.

The SDGs and the 2019 SPI provide a framework to protect our future and a way to measure progress, but achieving these goals will require more urgent and collective action. While reaching the SDGs by 2030 currently looks unattainable, the business community has the opportunity to influence the rest of the world to ensure we achieve these crucial goals as soon as we can. Our future and that of our children depend on it.

Source: Forbes – Leadership