Opinion on UN's SDG Business Forum

Below is the opinion piece done by Stephen B. Young, Global Executive Director, Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism. In it, he gives his thoughts and views after attending the UN's SDG Business Forum. Read on to see what he has to say.

 "Dear Friends and Colleagues:

On July 18th, I attended the SDG Business Forum, convened as part of the High-Level Political Forum of the U.N. focused on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDG Business Forum was convened by the International Chamber of Commerce and the U.N. Global Compact.

More than once when seated in the General Assembly chamber of the U.N., my thoughts have turned first to the necessity I would say of having idealism as part of our human condition and then quickly to the distances between our ideals and how so many of us behave.

Our lives need ideals to lift our spirits and guide our actions towards something noble and redeeming of our time here on earth to give us each genuine importance vis-a-vis the span of cosmic time.

But realities of power, fears, jealousies, ambitions and meanness force us, from time to time, to live not in very ideal circumstances.

The SDGs, to me, embody most worthy ideals. The U.N. itself – established to meld tribalisms and nationalisms into a peaceful and flourishing human community – is a worthy attempt to live by our best ideals of perfectibility.  But, as we all know, it disappoints us in the scope and depth of its achievements.

But what are we to do? Give up on ideals? Turn ourselves over to the dark side with no way to express our better natures?

The Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism itself is stretched between the same antipodes – impractical idealism on the one hand and surrender to crass vulgarity and abuse of power on the other.

So conflicted, as well, is the idea of a moral capitalism. Is it realistic, an oxymoron, or just an illusion turned to from time to time merely to give us brief mellow and comforting moments?

At the Forum, I learned two practical and realistic things.

First, the goals of sustainable development are more and more becoming the focus of how capitalism and business should interface with society. Sustainable Development is more hard-headed than “business ethics” and “corporate social responsibility” were as concepts and frameworks for business decisions.  Sustainable development has targets and objectives, outcomes, KPI’s so-to-speak, which can be costed-out, given budgets and timelines, assigned to managers for implementation. The SDGs are more integrated into society and politics than any injunction to “do good” and “be ethical” ever could be.

Sustainable development walks and talks more the language of Michael Porter’s easily spoken but still vague ideal of “shared value” between markets and humanity’s needs.

Secondly, both the U.N. Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are merging their metrics with the SDGs. The 10 standards of the Global Compact, drawn from treaties among sovereign states under international auspices, are being linked to the process of implementing the SDGs.  The GRI reporting templates are being modified to permit reporting on implementing the SDGs.

Reporting has a high priority among those championing the fusion of business capability and its unique functions of creating wealth and innovating new technologies to achieve more human flourishing.  Setting priorities, coming up with new business models and products and having discrete tasks each with its own measure of success will focus business endeavors and ease cross-sector collaborations among business, government and civil society.

An open question, however, is how can the advantages promised by the SDGs be structured and presented as worthy of private investment? How is global finance to support the SDGs?

That intersection of interests strikes me as easier to envision through rose-colored glasses than it is to achieve in reality.

Sincerly yours,

Stephen B. Young

Global Executive Director

Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism"