Friday, July 20, 2018

SDG Special

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Hello and welcome to a special episode of the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 20 July. I’m Anthony Day. Yes July, that's right. Actually today is Thursday 21st June, but if you are a patron you are getting this episode a whole month early. If you're not a patron and you’ve had to wait until 20th July to hear this and should like to be a patron, well just hop across to And while I’m talking about patrons let me welcome my latest patron, Shelagh Jones who has joined as a Gold Patron. Welcome Shelagh, your Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge is on its way and I’ll be in touch to set up the promised discussion groups very soon.

Goals. This special episode is mainly about goals. But not football. About the SDGs, the sustainable development goals from the United Nations and about how they relate to business. And as an extra extra, at the very end of this edition I've included the interview I did the other day with Julia Hartley Brewer on Talk Radio. She wanted to talk about carbon dioxide but it might not be what you think. 

First I'd like to mention a couple of books which I'm going to review later this year. I thought I'd tell you about them now to give you time to read them and see whether you agree with what I have to say. The first is a Circular Economy Handbook For Business and Supply Chains by Catherine Weetman. It has testimonials on the back cover from Ken Webster from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, from Mike Barry of Marks & Spencer and from Dr Juliana Powell a senior lecturer at Cranfield University. My review will appear in September’s episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. The other book I wanted to talk about and will be reviewing later this year is Designing The Purposeful World by Clive Wilson. It's particularly relevant to this next interview. Both these books are available from all good bookshops, including the ones that pay their taxes.

And now to those goals, and to an interview.

Kristina Joss is Head of Salterbaxter North America, a leading sustainability agency working across the whole spectrum of strategy and communications for multinational businesses. Prior to Salterbaxter, she worked at Business in the Community in London. She has more than a decade of experience in strategy and communications having worked in the private and nonprofit sectors in the UK and the US.

Transcription of Podcast with Anthony Day on ‘Moving the Goal Posts’

A: Today we are going to talk about goals – we are going to talk about business goals, sustainable development goals from the UN and Salterbaxter’s recently published ‘Moving the Goal Posts’, which brings all these different goals together. Would you like to expand on that?

K: Leading up to 2030 goals Salterbaxter began by reflecting on -  what are companies looking at? The sustainable development goals had really gained momentum and support from the business community in a way that many people did not expect or predict. We discussed how can we support businesses, what really needs to be changing because there is so many external factors at play, the sustainability community is moving so quickly and there are huge trends that are really starting to emerge in a new way.

We decided companies are not doing enough for that transformational change that everyone is talking about and the need. We really felt that at the heart of all that, is approaching it from a goals perspective – where are they are putting their stake in the ground?

There were a few examples here and there, but systematically companies need to have stronger goals in order to reach their aspirations set out in the 2030 Sustainability Development Goals agenda and to address the challenges that we are facing on the day to day now. That was really the catalyst behind this piece and the core of our argument.

A: Businesses have been setting goals and KPIs forever, are they now fully aware of the SDGs, are they seeing them as an issue which is relevant to business?

K: I do [think so]. It’s hard to say categorically that every business is thinking about it in the same way but as I mentioned there is definitely a huge uptake on the SDGs in the private sector. In a way that nobody really predicted and that continues to evolve year on year. 

When the SDGs were first announced there were a lot of companies that jumped in from a communications perspective and putting their hand up and saying ‘we support them and this is what we are doing in these specific goals’.  

But in the last 18 months we have really started to see companies take a much more strategic perspective and those communications and actions are still ongoing, and there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. But I definitely think there is a movement towards more support of the SDGs as companies actually start to feel the impact of those challenges.

A: And are you talking about a specific industry or sector here, or are you seeing this right across the board?

K: We are seeing this right across the board, but there are absolutely certain sectors that are feeling the pressure – both from an operational standpoint e.g. food beverage and from a customer perspective e.g. consumer packaged goods, apparel and retail. But in general, I think all companies are starting to think about them.
A: What about the scale of the company? Are small companies in on this or are they leaving it to the major organisations to take the lead?

K: It’s a great question and I don’t think there is really one answer. There are definitely some smaller companies that are pushing social issues at the heart of their business – social enterprises are a great example and there are some really amazing and interesting things happening in that space. There are also smaller companies that are in the supply chain of really big companies and have either taken the lead for that business or have followed suit.

So, there is definitely a lot of activity on the social enterprise space but I would say yes there are more inconsistences and gaps in smaller companies and they just don’t have the same high pressures or resources to address it. But the supply chain is a great opportunity for those companies to get it on the opportunity.

A: You mentioned supply chain, but how important is it for a company to then engage its suppliers?

K: It is critical really because you know one single business no matter what size they are cannot do it on their own and that’s really what is behind systems thinking - which is an emerging narrative and piece of work that is happening in the sustainability space. You need that collaborative effort and a lot of the challenges in sustainability are happening further down the supply chain with Tier 2 suppliers and beyond. So in order for a company to have a thorough and strategic approach to sustainability, they absolutely need to be engaging their suppliers and there are some interesting things happening in reverse.

There was an article I read the other day which highlighted that supplierers might become more of the push behind bigger businesses. There is a big push and pull happening right now. 

A: I can think of some examples of supply chain both related to the electronic industry, one is criticisms of working conditions in electronic assembling factories in China, which affect big brands over in the ‘West’. The other area in electronics being conflict minerals right down the supply chain and where are materials coming from?

K: Absolutely, the Human Rights agenda has really elevated the need to look at supply chain and there are some amazing organisations in that space that have done an excellent job in really highlighting those issues and getting businesses engaged.

A: There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals so businesses are concentrating all of them or are some more important than the others, or I suppose it really depends on the nature of the business.

K: It’s a great question and we get asked this a lot.  The beauty of the SDGs is that they are all interconnected, so if you are looking at one then, in theory, you are really looking at all of them.  But I would really recommend from a deeper strategic perspective and a communications perspective that companies just focus on a few (3-4).  To really drill down and get focused to have the big impact.  It doesn’t mean that they can’t be looking at the other SDGs, even in a strategic way, there are certainly ways to connect all of them, from the way you work with your employees on a day to day basis and the opportunities you provide to them, all the way through how you are engaging your supply chain and your consumers on sustainable lifestyles. 

But from a deeper strategic communications perspective I think focus is really what goes a long way, as this helps you to allocate resources, it helps your stakeholders really understand what you are trying to do, and it gets the business more focused to have an impact.

A: Do you find that this is a strategic issue at board level or do you find that the companies you work with actually make employees at all levels aware of their involvement in the SDGS.

K: I have seen both, but the board level seems to be a little bit harder. It doesn’t mean that board members aren’t aware of the SDGs, but that topic is not always escalated as frequently as us in the sustainability field would like. But employees definitely represent a great opportunity and everything a business is doing in CSR or sustainability really needs to be resonating with employees, it needs to be implemented and activated by employees and it is a great way to engage them and make them feel pride for the company they are working for and incentivized by what they are doing within the business. But the board level is really the area that needs to be unlocked further.

A: I am surprised to hear you say that because I thought it was the other way round and if corporates were engaging with the SDGs from the top-down, but you are saying that they aren’t necessarily. It’s like a lot of sustainability down at the shop floor with people who are really into sustainability but have to try and persuade those people further up the line. Is it being taken seriously, or is this another example of greenwashing?

K: Also another great question and I would say again that there are examples of both. I definitely see some great examples of companies taking it seriously, but there is also an opportunity for companies to be a bit disingenuous. But I’m increasingly having conversations with companies who are saying ‘you know we haven’t done that much in the SDGs...’- but they see the value in applying it and they don’t want to be disingenuous in the way that we position them. I think this is a healthy perspective and it doesn’t make sense for all companies to change their strategies around the SDGs, but this is a tool that can be applied in different ways across the business. I think it is great that companies are using them but also understanding the need to be authentic, but absolutely greenwashing is not something that we have completely overcome, but we are all definitely getting smarter about identifying it.

A: You mention that there is value in developing a suite of sustainability goals to support a larger strategy, which links back to what you were saying earlier, don’t go for all 17 but one or two. Is that the approach that you would recommend?

K: Absolutely, this is something that we cover in the thought leadership piece Moving the Goal Posts and this idea that we are creating a suite or a family of goals. In the piece we talk about the need for companies to create more transformative and strategic goals for sustainability that are akin to business strategy goals – you will get more return, you will get more interest, uptake and ultimately greater value. 

But the idea behind the suite of goals is that not everything needs to be transformative and goals can serve different purpose. There is absolute value in having more performance driven goals and investors are absolutely looking for that, in order to benchmark and assess the sustainability of a business and the long-term viability of that business. That is a growing trend that we absolutely need to be considering, so there are operational driven goals which definitely play a part. But there is a need and an opportunity for businesses to think far more strategically about their sustainability goals to develop ones that are inherently unique to that business and provide an opportunity to benchmark and showcase performance from an industry perspective and serve a wide range of needs.

A: I am going to put a link to the SDGs on our webpage relating to this podcast and a link to ‘moving the goal posts’ because your document is freely available, so people can read and download for themselves. If people listening to this know that they are not doing anything on SDGs and feel like they might want to, what would you suggest that they start doing tomorrow morning?

K: Well they could call us! But I think the first part is to get familiar with the 17 goals. Absolutely check the UN website, they have done a really great communications job. Start to understand the goals and the targets within them, each of the goals have a high-level statement for example. There is a lot of really interesting content that sits below this so you can get familiar with the goals and then start to align with what you are doing as business and try to find those synergies where you think you can have the biggest impact. That is a really great start, so do that mapping exercise, find what you are doing and what you are not doing.

The second step would be to find really great partners, there are organisations working across all these issues.  Find out what you should be doing and could be doing.

A: I am happy to put your contact details on the blog and when companies have gone through the first two stages they can ring you if it is appropriate. You are operating in the US though and not in the UK though?

K: I am based in the US, but Salterbaxter have their Headquarters in London and an office in New York, so we have teams on both continents and are happy to support either way.

A: Is there anything you would like to add before we close?

K: I would like to thank you so much for this opportunity and I am really excited to speak to you. I am really excited that the SDGs have had such an uptake and I think there is so much more that can be done in this space and it is interesting to see how companies are being really innovative and creative. The UN consistently asks for support in just communicating the SDGs and we really want to get the news out to anyone and everyone, because that’s really where the impact starts to happen. So if you can play a role in that it would be great. 

Plenty to think about there. If you’d like to contact Kristina her details are 

Losing the Fizz
And now for something completely different. I'm talking to Julia Hartley Brewer on Talk Radio about carbon dioxide.

[There’s a CO2 shortage in the UK. We discussed why this happened and how it will affect carbonated drinks, including lager, food production and chicken farmers.]

If you're listening to this in July I hope you got a drink and I hope your team won. If you’re a patron and you're listening to this in June you've got everything to look forward to.

And finally…
I'm Anthony Day and that's all for this special edition of the Sustainable Futures Report. If you're listening to this in July the next edition will be out on Friday 3rd August, but if you're a patron and listening to this in June the next edition will be out on Friday, 6 July. Either way, I’ll be back very soon.
I'm Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m off to research the next one.

Bye for now.

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