Making a Global Commitment to Sustainability

Making a Global Commitment to Sustainability

The success of the SDGs will rely on stakeholder partnerships, along with the strong backs and good hearts of volunteers from all corners of the world, including the private sector.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 10:35am

CAMPAIGN: Thought Leadership


Eduardo Martinez | UPS Foundation 

“Sustainability” is a word used all too casually these days. As different stakeholders attach their own definitions and agendas, sustainability has morphed into a way of life for some, a strategy for others and a thinly veiled marketing gimmick for too many.

But in September, when the United Nations launches its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the word will be defined on a global basis.

From poverty to partnerships, from hunger to health, from energy to equality, the U.N.’s 17 SDGs will give meaning and set the global agenda for sustainability for the next 15 years.

The SDGs follow and expand on the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed to by governments in 2000. Those eight goals are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, setting the stage for the SDGs and a new global sustainability framework.

While the MDGs were a noble start toward addressing many of the world’s most serious problems, they also were criticized by some for being too narrow and overly focused on developing countries. It’s doubtful those same criticisms will emerge this time.

Every country will be expected to work towards achieving this set of broadly ambitious SDGs.

The reach and scope of the SDGs are why most agree that their success hinges on nothing less than a comprehensive and wholehearted effort that brings together stakeholders and partnerships across governments, civil society, academia and the private sector, which includes the special talents and passions of volunteers.

In our experience, public-private partnerships work best when they represent a balance of staff-level involvement and management-level support from all of the partner organizations. The management group acts as the leadership team that oversees the design and management of the project from conception through implementation.

Guiding principles, goals, communications, diversity and inclusion are also critical to collaboration at this level.

Finally, a successful partnership must have a strong connection with the underserved and impoverished communities it seeks to help.

As an example, when a disaster strikes, communities and their residents are the ones who are hardest hit. Local, well-constituted, public-private partnerships have the unique ability to connect with these individuals since they better understand local needs at the community level.

Even when these fundamentals are in place, it’s fair to ask whether private enterprises can truly promote sustainable development while also pursuing profit.

Can Private Enterprises Promote Sustainability? 

This is a question we have carefully considered, and we respond with an emphatic “yes.”

Numerous surveys and studies have shown that private-sector companies do well from a business and financial perspective while doing good from a socially responsible one.

More importantly, our own experience also shows how important work can inspire a company’s workforce and change our communities for the better.

According to a Towers Perrin study reported in Bloomberg Business, highly engaged employees boost operating income by 19 percent compared with companies with the lowest percentage of engaged employees.

The research also found a significant improvement in engagement increases revenues at S&P 500 companies by an average of $95 million.

The private sector is a logical SDG partner for others reasons, too.

Initiatives as interrelated and complex as the SDGs require the critical thinking that those in the private sector bring to work every day. They research, analyze, plan and measure, all actions needed when the most serious issues facing our planet and its people are at stake.

Business professionals are accustomed to viewing problems as opportunities.

That’s certainly the case for some 435,000 problem solvers at UPS. UPSers have a proven ability to bring a unique set of skills to bear against the urgent needs of people and their communities. Those opportunities stir our passion as volunteers wherever UPS operates around the world.

Last year, at the Points of Light Conference – one of the world’s preeminent volunteer organizations – UPS Chief Executive Officer David Abney announced that UPS would achieve 20 million volunteer hours by the end of 2020.

No organization had ever made such a bold commitment. But UPS didn’t do it to be the first. We made that commitment to hold ourselves accountable, and to inspire other companies to find their own passion for volunteerism.

There can be no doubt that the success of the SDGs will rely on stakeholder partnerships, along with the strong backs and good hearts of volunteers from all corners of the world, including the private sector.

The U.N. has acknowledged as much in its SDG proposal, saying that “people are at the center of sustainable development.” Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, goes even further, calling volunteerism “among society’s most vital assets.”

The MDGs were a vital call to action by the United Nations that resulted in measureable progress over the last 15 years. The Sustainable Development Goals have even greater potential, especially with the help of the private sector and millions of volunteers. 

Eduardo Martinez is president of the UPS Foundation.
This article first appeared on Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.