Sustainability & The Private Sector: A New Framework for Brands

Last week, the United Nations codified the Sustainable Development Goals (#SDGs), building on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that launched in 2000 as a way to provide developing countries a framework to address social and environmental challenges around poverty, hunger, education, water and other fundamental human needs. The SDGs set a more holistic framework for addressing societal needs in clear and measurable ways, and include developed countries in addition to developing. And there is an opportunity for the private enterprise to help meet these goals.

Increasingly, the private sector has become more vocal advocates of the long-term development of communities and countries. Call it sustainability, corporate social responsibility, shared values, social impact — no matter the label, more and more companies are aligning their infrastructure, resources, products and people in ways that allow them to address these critical issues. The United Nations has outlined the SDGs in a way that encourages interconnectivity between the private sector and the issues, allowing corporations to launch programs that have the potential to make significant positive impact.

Why should corporations get involved in sustainability and social causes? There are many driving factors, including that it’s “the right thing to do,” and that it helps brands connect with their communities. In addition, there is a tangible business benefit to sustainability and social impact programs at corporations – ultimately they contribute to the creation of new consumers and new markets, help secure a robust supply chain, engender positive equity with customers and consumers, and attract and retain talent.

Aligning a company around sustainability principles takes discipline, focus, determination and time. But it can be done (click to tweet). For example, food giant and Ketchum client, ConAgra Foods, a company that reaches 99 percent of U.S. households. With Kori Reed at the helm of the Foundation, they are using their knowledge of food, access to suppliers, marketing might and convening power to raise awareness of domestic hunger and creating a robust network of volunteers to end child hunger in the United States.

For nearly ten years I worked at the United Nations World Food Programme, an agency dedicated to feeding 100 million people a year. My role included helping the UN understand how to work effectively with the private sector, building infrastructure to support public-private partnerships and creating partnerships around the issues of food security, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), education, children, women and girls. I had the opportunity to help establish many partnerships with global companies that successfully leveraged consumer touch-points, engage talent and create solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.

These partnerships were not one-sided. We worked closely with companies to make sure their goals were met and their stories were told because we understood how important the private sector is to making our world a better place.

From my decade of experience at the UN, I regard public-private partnerships as mutually beneficial. The UN receives critical funding and supplies, access to strategic executives and infrastructure, and in return companies are recognized for the work they do to make the world a better place.

Tied to the Sustainable Development Goals is a unique opportunity for companies to build meaningful, authentic partnerships with the public sector to address fundamental human needs and bring about positive change. Now is the time for brands to focus on their sustainability, corporate responsibility and social impact programs. The United Nations is ready. The world is ready.