November 24, 2015

How Companies can Contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals: Insights from the BSR Conference

Anna Kearney at the recent BSR Conference

Anna Kearney at the recent BSR Conference


Following the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which outline 17 critical global challenges to be addressed by 2030, BNY Mellon’s global head of Corporate Social Responsibility, John Buckley, asked, “What’s next for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?” A panel at the recent BSR Conference, “Implementing the SDGs: A How-to Guide,” tackled that question by looking at the role that companies across industries can play in achieving the SDGs.

In speaking about the panel’s focus, John Hodges, managing director, Infrastructure and Finance at BSR, noted, “Many companies are interested in how they can do their part to help society meet the SDGs and ensure that COP21 is a success. While companies have always been engaged in local and national public policy, 2015 is proving to be a transformational year where companies are now also asking to be at the table, and for the better, on major international negotiations at the intergovernmental level.”

Anna Kearney, associate director of social finance at BNY Mellon, joined Christopher Gray, senior director of global institutions at Pfizer and Dan Bross, senior director of corporate citizenship at Microsoft, on the panel, which was moderated by Cecile Oger, manager, advisory services at BSR.

The panelists agreed that the private sector has an important role to play and it’s critical for companies to determine which goals make the most sense for them to support from a business perspective. As Bross noted, doing the analysis of how your company can make the SDGs real and can contribute to the agenda is crucial.

Pfizer, for example, is already working to help achieve goal #3 – good health and wellbeing – but Gray said it’s not just about that goal for them. He sees the goals as interconnected, so cautions against focusing on one goal in a silo.

Kearney also sees a larger role for BNY Mellon beyond its support for goal #16 on creating just, peaceful and inclusive societies. Through its partnership with the United Nations Foundation, BNY Mellon is working with top-tier legal and consulting firms to promote rule of law around the world, which will allow for increased capital flow to developing and emerging markets. But Kearney says, “There’s an opportunity for BNY Mellon to drive a conversation on the role of social finance. Through our social finance framework, which is based in part on research we sponsored with BSR, we are helping issuers and investors consider financing for all 17 SDGs.”

Gray pointed out that, for Pfizer, change will come through employee engagement and each employee feeling like he or she personally owns the SDGs. Bross emphasized that Microsoft’s approach to the SDGs starts with linking them to the company’s mission.

The panelists emphasized the need for cross-sector collaboration and new models of partnership to implement the SDGs, including with the developing markets and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They discussed the role that technology can play in spreading the word about the SDGs to engage a broader audience.

As Kearney said, “We have to bring the SDGs into the conversations. Businesses need to initiate the conversation with investors and portfolio managers.”