The SDG Action Manager Helps Businesses Create and Measure Their Meaningful Impact
By establishing the Sustainable Development Goals five years ago, the United Nations member states created a global call to action on the biggest threats to Earth and its people. To encourage progress by 2030 on these large challenges — including hunger, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, and decent work and economic growth — B Lab and the United Nations Global Compact worked with content advisors to create the SDG Action Manager, an impact management tool.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout along with the racial justice protests have further magnified many of the problems at the root of the SDGs while accelerating the need for change and action. Certified B Corporations are well-positioned to take action on the SDGs with the guidance of the SDG Action Manager. Some B Corps are built around services that directly address the SDGs, while others are using the SDG Action Manager to better align their work with the most relevant goals.
Nick Aster of South Pole says the company fits into the first group of B Corps through its focus on reducing environmental impact, but it has found a new way to motivate and connect clients with sustainability efforts by connecting projects with the SDGs.
“Most people want to feel their work is benefitting a purpose larger than themselves,” Aster says. “When they are able to see that their work has had tangible impact against specific goals, it greatly improves satisfaction and ultimately the bottom line — to say nothing of the positive impact on the goal itself.”
At Phil, a Canadian B Corp that provides communications services, aligning client projects with the SDGs deepens their impact and their connections with stakeholders, says Founder and CEO Kim Fuller.
“Just talking about corporate values isn’t enough. Customers want business to help them live better and employees need to know that their actions are making a positive impact on the world,” Fuller says. “So the question is not if a business should have a social purpose, but how. Aligning with the SDGs in an authentic way shows that a B Corp understands the context of its desired impact and its role in the larger global effort for its specific impact area.”
B The Change reached out to South Pole, Phil, and other B Corps in the U.S. and Canada to learn how the SDGs are shaping their work and why these global goals make it easier to connect everyday projects with larger, long-term benefits for all stakeholders.
Tangible Benefits for Clients and Planet
South Pole, which gained B Corp Certification in August 2020, helps clients reduce their environmental impact through carbon offsets, renewable energy and other strategies.
“We tie our climate projects to various SDGs, which gives them a lot of additional benefits beyond simply carbon offsetting,” says Aster, Director of Marketing for South Pole’s North America operations. “This allows our clients to see tangible benefits toward many different SDGs while they take climate action.”
One example is the Kariba forest and wildlife protection project, a community-based effort involving four rural councils in Zimbabwe that addresses 10 of the SDGs.
“Most companies pursue specific SDGs that are materially related to their line of business. For example, a cruise line may have a strong interest in ocean health or economic development and job creation in the Caribbean,” he says. “In most cases, companies already have a pretty good idea which SDGs are most important to their operations or priorities, but we are always happy to suggest projects that may align in other ways that would benefit their stakeholders and business.”
Connecting to Community and a Larger Purpose
Bullhorn, a Kentucky-based branding agency, uses the SDG Action Manager for goal-setting around its Good Works Program, through which it donates branding and language work primarily to small nonprofits and governmental programs. The B Corp is pursuing Kentucky-based partners with work relevant to SDG 2: Zero Hunger; SDG 4: Quality Education, and SDG 5: Gender Equality.
Founding partner Brad Flowers says the Good Works Program helps Bullhorn take the U.N. priorities and apply them to supporting nonprofits in its communities.
“These partnerships are about impact, and together we can amplify and even multiply that impact,” he says. “By aligning our business practices with a global movement, we feel connected to a larger purpose. We have done six projects this year and have one in the works. These partnerships often turn into our most meaningful and compassionate work.”
The Good Works Program also puts large global issues that often feel overwhelming into a local context for the Bullhorn team and partner organizations. “At the beginning of 2020, we facilitated an in-house SDG workshop for our team,” Flowers says. “We discussed which goals meant something to us personally and then selected the ones we knew we could work toward collectively. We wanted to educate ourselves on the history of the goals and their meaning before we began the work.”
A Growth Investment That Accelerates Impact
B Corp Common Interests helps clients put their money to work on the SDGs, seeking positive returns and impact while connecting people with issues that matter most to them. Max Mintz, partner and financial advisor at Common Interests, says the B Corp is working on a new direct impact investment for forest restoration that makes a measurable impact on seven of the SDGs.
“We’ve partnered with an organization called World Tree to plant the world’s fastest-growing tree to capture an impressive amount of carbon while supporting small independent farmers to build generational wealth and regenerate soil on their farms,” he says.
Mintz says the World Tree program helps clients connect the impact of their investment with the SDGs and the farmers it benefits.
“Each investor will also receive an impact certificate that will tell them how much carbon we anticipate capturing, how much soil restoration will occur, and how many farmer jobs they will support as a direct result of their investment,” he says.
A 3-Step Process to Identify Goals
In its work with many nonprofits, foundations, and mission-driven businesses, Canadian B Corp Phil has seen the need for action on the SDGs grow and accelerate with 2020’s challenges.
“The pandemic has only reinforced the importance of the SDGs, which provide B Corps with a new lens through which to translate global needs and ambitions into business solutions,” Founder and CEO Kim Fuller says. “The SDGs will not be achieved without accelerating change in the private sector.”
The team at Phil used a three-step process to identify its primary SDGs, she says, that also involved relevant internal stakeholders. They started by developing an understanding of the SDGs and their targets as a company. Then they worked through the SDG Action Manager, which helped the Phil team find its starting point and identify which SDGs mattered most to the company.
“Finally, we assessed our value chain to identify which parts of the chain could be the biggest levers for change and which types of activities were possible in terms of reducing negative or increasing positive impacts,” says Phil’s SDG Project Assistant, Lauren MacDonald. “This step was crucial in helping us narrow our focus and move from simply mapping activities and programs against the SDGs to developing an actionable strategy for driving change.”
Through those three steps, Phil decided to focus on five main SDGs: SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being, SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.
A Framework for Targeted Impact
Genevieve Lawrence, sustainability director at MaCher, says the company uses the SDG Action Manager to plan and create a tiered system of environmental, social and governance goals. The B Corp identified nine SDGs where it believes it can have the most impact.
By organizing the goals in a framework from lower to higher impact, MaCher can examine its performance and identify areas for improvement. The company’s annual sustainability report includes an overview of the framework with policies or programs at MaCher that address relevant SDGs:
• SDG 5: Gender Equality: Anti-discrimination policies and pay equality; female representation across all levels of business; work flexibility for parents; supplier diversity tracking.
• SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: Contributing to local community stakeholders; green commute participation; telecommuting options; climate change mitigation in operations.
• SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Environmentally preferred input materials; minimized environmental impact of packaging; environmental impact tracking of suppliers.
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