Sustainability is at risk. And whilst the risks that go beyond climate change may be less well-understood, they are just as pressing.
That was the message at the first meeting of the European Union’s Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 10 January in Brussels.
The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) is serving on the Platform alongside major integrated reporting companies Unilever, Enel and Rabobank; and our partners in CSR Europe, amongst 24 high-level representatives drawn from business, trade unions, NGOs, public service and academia.
The formation of the Platform now, two years after historic agreement on the SDGs, is probably a result of internal wrangling in Brussels, but speeches from two Vice Presidents of the European Commission suggested that the exercise of ‘policy through dialogue’ is a genuine one — in which recommendations from the Platform would turn into concrete actions.
“This platform will have a decisive influence on the priorities of this and the next European Commission,” First Vice President Frans Timmermans told members, as Chair of the Platform.
Much of the talk during the meeting was not simply of environmental sustainability but of economic, social and even democratic sustainability.
The business contribution to the Platform was very much welcomed, but the World Bankrepresentative underlined that only 30-40 percent of the information needed for business to properly implement the SDGs in currently available.
Other uncomfortable truths presented to the gathering included that only six of 22 European countries surveyed meet the SDG education goal, and that responses to the ‘Eurobarometer’ public opinion surveys put the environment at the bottom of the ten biggest concerns citizens have, at a time when populist issues have risen to the top.
One of the first priorities for members of the Platform is to contribute to the drawing up of a European Reflection Paper, Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030.
This follows a series of similar papers on the ‘Future of Europe,’ addressing issues from globalisation to the future of finance, and from defence to the social dimension.
It rightly puts the Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of future thinking.
What was also very welcome was broad agreement that a ‘holistic’ approach must be maintained, and that all of the actors had to work outside silos.
Not only is that a key principle for the integrated reporting movement, but it is central to the SDGs themselves being indivisible.
Indeed, the whole exercise is one that very much reflects the new role of business in a world of increasing complexity, stakeholder engagement and global challenges.
It complements the work of the Business Commission for Sustainable Developmentset up at the World Economic Forum and of the High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance, both of which will reach conclusions in the coming weeks.
For some years, leading businesses and investors have understood that they can be partners in international development, not simply to contribute to social goals but to build relationships and markets, and to manage risk as part of their economic objectives, as well.
But this inaugural meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Platform on the SDGs reinforced the fact that this isn’t about developing countries alone, and that the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals apply equally in Europe and across the developed world.
The IIRC is a global organisation working across all regions of the world, and we are seeking to develop reporting that properly reflects that the SDGs apply in all countries, in every business and to each of us as individuals.
All of the members of the Platform were invited to engage with our own partners, contacts and networks, in contributing our ideas to the forthcoming reflection paper.
If you would like to shape the IIRC’s own reflection on meeting the SDGs, please do get in touch.
By Richard Stuart Howitt: Chief Executive Officer of the International Integrated Reporting Council. He was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Labour Party (UK)”>Labour Party for the East of England between 1994 and 2016
An MEP for over 20 years, Howitt is an architect of the EU’s non-financial information directive, one of the biggest transformations in corporate disclosure anywhere in the world. He has been rapporteur on corporate reporting-related issues, including social responsibility, for many years.
For five years, Howitt acted as a voluntary IIRC Ambassador, promoting integrated reporting within the policy and business communities. In November 2016, Howitt became CEO to implement the IIRC Board’s recently approved new strategic plan to embed integrated reporting principles within corporate governance practices worldwide.