Big brands join tve debate to talk seriously about addressing the UN SDGs

Lucy/ September 13, 2019/ news

Business and sustainability practitioners from key global companies joined a selected audience for tve’s debate on 12 September, to take a good hard look at how corporates are working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Jennifer Viccars, Brand and Marketing Director of Octopus Group and President of the 2019 tve Global Sustainability Film Awards chaired the event which was hosted in the boardroom of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). On the panel was Mark Watson, Head of Sustainable Development at John Swire and Sons, the shipping, aviation and trading conglomerate; Alistair Clark, Managing Director of Environment and Sustainability at the EBRD; and Jess Kennedy, Associate Director of Sustainability at Arup, the global engineering and built environment specialists.

Debate Highlights:

Jennifer questioned where leadership and accountability should come from with corporate efforts to achieve the SDGs. In the finance sector, Alistair Clark remarked that leadership is coming from a range of sources: ‘from our investors, from business groups like the WBCSD or the TCFD, and even central banks.’ Alistair highlighted these organisations as providing more direction than governments in the UK and many other countries.

Jennifer asked the panel to address the issue of how best companies should build sustainability into their business model, commenting, ‘There is a view that a sustainability department is a way for everyone else in the organisation to outsource their thinking about sustainability. On the other hand some organisations have made a huge success of that structure.’

Mark Watson commented: ‘You cannot leave this issue to specialists alone, or it risks becoming a quiet backwater of the business. I work a lot with finance, because if you can’t get sustainability prioritised by the guys with the money, it will be hard for it to have any real traction elsewhere in your business.’

The panel discussed how to translate the SDGs into practical business action. Jess Kennedy from Arup responded: ‘We run SDG workshops, socialising the SDGs so people can think about the opportunities that each goal represents – that is the place to start.’

Jennifer pushed the panel to address the question of industries whose product or service cannot ultimately work within the UN goals, such as oil exploration or aviation. Mark Watson, commented that where there are no viable alternatives, corporates in these businesses must improve sustainability where they can. In the long term, investing in innovation to find sustainable alternatives is crucial.

‘We were the first airline globally to put money into a biofuels facility – a closed loop zero carbon system that produces jet fuel from waste. The dream is to bring that technology to other parts of the world including Hong Kong,’ said Mark.

The panellists agreed that for business, the key value of the SDGs lies in setting out a common purpose. Jess Kennedy stated: ‘It’s the fact they have global consensus, five million people were engaged in the consultation to bring them together and that’s really powerful. If nothing else, it gives us all a common language and vision at the national level and across sectors, and we haven’t had that before.’

The debate is part of a series of events tve runs in the lead up to the Global Sustainability Film Awards. Showcase your company’s sustainability initiative by entering a short film about it for the Awards now, before the deadline on 10 October. Find the entry guidelines here:

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