Far from far-fetched goals

Published on October 26, 2018

Resources, assets, reach. The private sector is compelled to muster all three to tackle the complex issues that are essential to realizing a sustainable future for themselves, their customers and society.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, governments around the world have set the course for a sustainable future for all by 2030. If we are to get anywhere close to achieving this ambitious vision, the private sector must step up and mobilize.

Achieving these Global Goals involves more than modest contributions by business and industry. They must re-engineer their business models and value chains in ways that go beyond incremental and known solutions. Canadian Business for Social Responsibility published the Qualities of a Transformational Company a few years ago. It’s a roadmap that defines how business can transform its operating model and operating context to help put society and its business on a sustainable path. One of the top qualities is that companies adopt long-term bold goals beyond the foreseeable future to foster innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

  • If you set a big goal, you might not meet it, but you’ll accomplish a lot more than you would have if you hadn’t set the goal and you’ll learn a lot along the way. We can all do this, we all have to do this, so let’s get out there and make these things happen.

    Sam Arons Lyft Sustainability Director

Sound far-fetched? Seem unachievable? Far from it. Here are the criteria leading companies are using to accelerate and scale their contributions to a sustainable future for their business and society:

  • Address long-term societal trends, risks and opportunities in ways that create value for the company, customers, its value chain and society
  • Set ambitious, overarching and aspirational quests
  • Look beyond organizational boundaries (e.g. suppliers, customers, industry peers) and current capabilities
  • Anticipate beyond foreseeable future and known solutions; i.e. beyond business as usual
  • Adopt context or science-based goals which address corporate performance against the carrying capacity of social and natural resources
  • Guide the company so its operations and value chain don’t exceed environmental and social boundaries, thresholds, norms and limits
  • Determine what is a “reasonable share” to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Take a precautionary approach that considers how the company relies on, improves, destroys or changes human, social, or natural capital in the way it conducts its business
  • Impose stretch targets with shorter-term commitments (e.g. 5 years) to operationalize the steps to achieving their ambition
  • Clarify the end state to show how the company will contribute to a future sustainable business and society.

Visionary Goals and Targets to Accelerate Sustainable Solutions

The following table provides an overview of a dozen companies that are at the vanguard of sustainable goal-setting.

Note that some of the targets below are for 2020: they were set earlier.

Company Long-Term Goal and Target
HSBC
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  • Provide US$100 billion in sustainable financing and investment by 2025
  • Source 100 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with an interim target of 90 per cent by 2025
TD
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  • Target of CDN$100 billion (US$78 billion) in low-carbon lending, financing, asset management and other programs by 2030
Walmart
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  • Achieve zero waste to landfill in operations by 2025 (US, UK, Canada)
  • Reduce 1 Gigaton of emissions [in the supply chain] by 2030 by working with suppliers
  • Double the sales of locally grown produce in the US by 2030
Unilever
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  • Improve health and well-being for more than 1 billion people by 2030
  • Reduce environmental impact by half by 2030
Dow
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  • Increase the positive net impact of products across all markets such that the benefit to global sustainable development exceeds burdens by six times by 2025
  • Identify and implement business-driven project alternatives that will best enhance nature and deliver $1 billion in net present value by 2025
Marks and Spencer
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  • Help transform 1,000 communities by 2025
  • Ensure 100 per cent of products address 100 per cent of their material social and environmental impacts by 2025
Kingfisher
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  • Enable a 50 per cent reduction in customer energy use through products, services and advice by 2025
  • Create 20 new products or services that help customers get more from less, reuse or use longer by 2025
  • Ensure 20 per cent of sales enable customers to create safer, healthier homes and connect with nature by 2025
  • Ensure sustainable management and efficient use of key resources (2025) including 100 per cent responsibly-sourced wood and paper
BT
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  • Help 10 million socially disadvantaged people access better healthcare, learning or employment opportunities by 2020
  • Help our customers cut their emissions by at least 3 times our own carbon impact by 2020
  • Help to raise £1Billion for good causes
  • Inspire two-thirds of employees to volunteer
  • Help five million children get a better tech education
Sony
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  • Achieve a zero environmental footprint throughout the lifecycle of products and business activities by 2050
Seventh Generation
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By 2025:

  • Sustainable Sourcing: 100 per cent of materials and ingredients will be sustainable bio-based or recycled and 30 per cent of palm kernel oil will be replaced by non-land use, bio-based oils
  • Zero Waste: 100 per cent of Seventh Generation’s materials will be reusable and reused, recyclable and recycled, or biodegradable and degraded
  • Protect Water: No water will be contaminated during a product’s life cycle
  • Equitable Value Chain: All workers throughout the supply chain will earn a livable wage or better
  • Equitable and Inclusive Communities: Seventh Generation will nurture the power of its collective individuality with a team that reflects the racial and gender diversity of its country at all levels
  • Zero Toxins: All Seventh Generation products will be free of chronic toxins
  • Right to Know: All home and personal care products sold in the US will disclose ingredients, including chronically toxic incidental ingredients

By 2030:

  • Reduce scope 1 (direct) and 2 (indirect) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 100 per cent by 2030
  • Reduce absolute GHG emissions from the use of products 90 per cent and reduce all other scope 3 (indirect) emissions 80 per cent by 2030
Salesforce
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  • 50 per cent of Salesforce suppliers (by emissions) to set emissions reduction targets by 2025
  • After 2020, all major, new Salesforce office interiors will align with LEED Platinum v4 standards and pursue Net Zero Carbon certification
  • Invest $10M in climate entrepreneurs and start-ups by 2020
Apple
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  • 100 per cent of products to be made of recycled and renewable materials only (ND)

If you’re inspired by what these businesses are doing but feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of moving forward, engage your Boards and senior leaders in the conversation. Start by defining and adopting bold long-term goals. This set of guidelines will help: The New Sustainability Vision: Setting Sail to a Better Future. 

We have the research, best practices, guidelines and tools to create a sustainable future for everyone by 2030. All we need now is action.

REI, an American outdoor gear company, is launching a series of conversations with creative thinkers on the future of the outdoors, as it embarks on its next 80 years. They want to ensure that the outdoors is central to the American way of life. This will inform the company’s future impact agenda. Watch this space for developments.

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