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How Nigerian businesses can contribute to the sustainable development goals

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Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. With the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, the United Nations (UN) member states (Nigeria included), committed to a comprehensive, integrated and universal transformation through the formation and adoption of the seventeen goals called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals in September 2015. The SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which established measurable, universally-agreed objectives for tackling extreme poverty and hunger, preventing deadly diseases and expanding primary education to all children, among other development priorities. The MDGs successfully lifted more than 1 billion people out of poverty; reduced child mortality and the number of out of school children by more than half; and recorded a 40% fall in HIV/AIDS since 2000. These achievements among others provided valuable lessons and experience to tackle the SDGs. The SDGs are a bold commitment to finish what was started with the MDGs. All 17 Global Goals interconnect, as success in one positively impacts others.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), which monitors the delivery of the SDGs has reiterated that for the 2030 agenda to be a reality, all stakeholders – government, individuals, civil societies and businesses must be willing and committed to implementing the global goals.

This article focuses on one of the stakeholders – businesses. Many Nigerian businesses focus solely on profit maximization and pay little or no attention to the SDGs. Data shows that all the successful global businesses such as Microsoft, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Amazon, Nestle and so on, directly or indirectly contribute to the SDGs. Essentially, a conscious and a consistent effort at contributing to these goals will in the long run influence the progress and success of any business.

The UN Global Compact expects companies to first do business responsibly and then pursue opportunities to solve societal problems through business innovation and collaboration. Nigerian businesses can contribute to SDGs through any of the following ways (some of which are listed on the SDG compact):

Goal 1: End poverty

  • Recruit, train and adequately pay qualified unemployed local people, including those living in poverty, and integrate them into their organization

Goal 2: Zero hunger

  • Donate food items to the needy in the environment
  • Patronize local farmers by buying their farm produce

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

  • Provide employee health benefits like Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) for staff

Goal 4: Quality education

  • Create programs (e.g. internships, work-study programs, traineeships, etc.) that give students early access to the corporate environment
  • Provide employees with continuous opportunities to improve their technical skills for their current and future employment
  • Award scholarships or sponsor children and adults

Goal 5: Gender equality

  • Pay equal remuneration, including benefits, for work of equal value to both men and women
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence at work, including verbal and/or physical abuse

Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation

  • Prioritize water efficiency by installing best-practice technologies for water conservation
  • Sink boreholes in rural communities where residents do not have access to safe and clean water
  • Prohibit the use of chemicals and materials that can be particularly detrimental to water quality

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

  • Invest in renewable energy resources, prioritize energy-efficient practices (e.g. preserve light, heating, cooling etc.) whenever possible
  • Adopt clean energy technologies and infrastructures like the use of solar power or even inverters

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

  • Institute non-discriminatory practices across all operations
  • Install a firm policy against unfair hiring and recruitment practices while embracing diversity and inclusion

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

  • Establish standards and promote regulation that ensures company projects and initiatives are sustainably managed
  • Promote innovation by giving all stakeholders the opportunity to offer creative solutions to sustainability challenges

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

  • Invest in business-driven poverty eradication activities such as developing living wage policy
  • Improve access to basic goods and services for people living in poverty (e.g. through core business, policy dialogue and social investment)

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

  • Jointly develop and/or participate in a sustainable community that brings together relevant stakeholders through a common and neutral platform to jointly analyze, discuss, and act on urban functionality, resilience, and sustainable development
  • Support and utilize public transportation services

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

  • Reduce impact of manufacturing by using recycled products for raw material
  • Significantly reduce waste and ensure that any unavoidable waste is utilized to the fullest degree (e.g. organic waste as fuel or fertilizer).

Goal 13: Climate action

  • Retrofit the lighting systems of the company’s facilities to energy-efficient LED lighting.
  • Understand climate risks and build resilience into the company’s assets and supply chain.
  • Expand sustainable forest management through responsible sourcing practices and product substitution.

Goal 14: Life below water

  • Track the life cycle of products and materials to understand how they are disposed and which products could likely find their way into marine environments.
  • Record and disclose information on the chemical and material usage within products, packaging, and processing systems to facilitate closing the loop.
  • Prevent waste mismanagement or littering that could pollute the marine environment.

Goal 15: Life on land

  • Scale up best practices for land-use planning and management
  • Commit to and implement responsible sourcing practices beyond compliance – applying environmental and social safeguards for all raw materials and commodities.

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

  • Comply with laws and regulations in the industry and country
  • Commit to and implement conflict-sensitive, lawful and transparent operational policies

Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals

  • Partake in SDG-related partnerships like the UN’s Make the Global Goals Local campaign, the SDG reporting initiative and locally-based sustainability initiatives

Many people think the SDGs do not benefit businesses and so do not care about them, but this is wrong. One of the benefits of SDGs to a business is it offers a tangible opportunity for them to increase their profit while working towards a greater good. Research shows that customers are more likely to patronize businesses that contribute to the SDG and so increases the desirability of their products/services to socially-conscious consumers. Agri-food; energy and materials; sustainable cities; and health & wellbeing have been identified to have huge growth opportunities and could stimulate the creation of 330 million jobs by 2030. This will foster a healthy and more productive labour force with raised purchasing power. Also, as the government in contributing its quota develops policies that align with the SDGs, businesses will be forced to adopt operations that align with these policies.

Businesses and the SDGs complement each other and as such, businesses in the Nigerian space should find ways to play their part. A publication titled, ‘The UN SDGs: A Why, When and How Guide for Business’, helps to increase the discussion among businesses about the SDGs as well as support companies to implement their plans that contribute to the SDGs. The publication recommends that companies:

 

  • Define priorities
  • Seek feedback and input from a range of stakeholders about the SDGs
  • Turn priorities into actionable and time-bound goals aligned with the SDGs
  • Incorporate the SDGs into non-financial reporting using analysis from the UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative
  • Build on partnerships, unify sectors and engage employees to further goals and craft Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs

When these recommendations are adopted by businesses, Nigeria would be one of the nations that have a thriving business environment and could successfully achieve the Global Goals by 2030!


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