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The business of sustainable development

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Business of sustainable development
MSI Chair, Professor John Thwaites discussing how business can engage with the Sustainable Development Goals with Sasha Courville (Head of Corporate Responsibility Strategy, National Australia Bank) and James Ensor (Group Senior Manager, Social Policy, BHP Billiton).
Global Compact Network Australia

April 2015

Aligning business strategy to the principles of sustainable development is good for business. And the UN's soon-to-be finalised Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could provide a framework for how it could be done. There are some of the key messages a new report from MSI - The business of sustainable development: Building business engagement in sustainable development and the UN SDGs.

The report was released jointly by the Global Compact Network Australia and the Australia/Pacific network of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which is hosted by MSI.

The SDGs, which will be adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015, will set global development priorities until 2030 and apply to both developing and developed countries. A UN proposal for 17 SDGs - covering inclusive economic growth, human wellbeing, sustainable environment, and mechanisms like governance (to enable goal implementation) - is currently being negotiated by world governments.

As the world's primary source of economic activity, business has a central role to play in helping to achieve the SDGs.

The report summarises the outcomes of a recent workshop we held with the Global Compact Network Australia at BHP Billiton headquarters in Melbourne, which brought together over 80 participants from business, government, civil society, and academia. The workshop explored why sustainable development is important for business. It also identified opportunities for businesses to engage with the SDGs through core business activities, value chain initiatives, and community investment both at home and abroad.

Veteran business leaders such as Harold Mitchell, Anthony Pratt, and Sam Mostyn reflected in a high-level panel on why they have been champions of business engagement with sustainable development for many years. They explained that this drive came not only from business self-interest (such as building a customer base and mitigating future risks). It also came from a conviction that businesses are interdependent with the communities they operate in and as such benefit from creating 'shared value' rather than just 'share value'.

In another session, BHP Billiton and the National Australia Bank provided examples of the processes and programs they use to incorporate sustainable development principles in practice. Both are leading the way in incorporating these principles throughout their businesses. Their presentations demonstrated the crucial role of business in achieving the SDGs and the usefulness of the SDGs as a framework to guide business investment and strategy.

Discussions among the participants in breakout groups highlighted the many roles business can play in achieving particular sustainable development outcomes such as ending poverty and inequality, addressing resource and environmental stress, and improving governance and accountability. The groups emphasised the need for business to work in partnership with government and civil society to achieve the best sustainable development outcomes.

MSI will be running a broader follow-up workshop in early May 2015 for government, business, civil society, and academia. The workshop will focus on how the SDGs will be implemented in Australia and the role of the different sectors in contributing to their achievement.