High-Level Lunch: Measuring Business Progress on the SDGs

– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at High-Level Lunch: Measuring Business Progress on the SDGs

Good afternoon – excellencies, dear colleagues, friends,

We are here today for the third SDG Business Forum.

And it is a pleasure to address all of the high-level guests with us today.

I want to thank our hosts: the International Chamber of Commerce, the United Nations Global Compact, and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The topic of our lunch is measuring business progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

But I want to begin, today, by talking about why we need progress, to start with.

Well, the first reason is that businesses are crucial to the SDGs.

Don’t forget: there is a reason we made the 2030 Agenda a universal one.

We did not have to do this.

We could have designed a purely public framework. We could have focused on only national legislation and policies. And we could have put the entire burden of implementation on governments.

This, actually, would have made our jobs a lot easier.

But, we did not do this.

We did something very different.

Instead, we decided to aim for real transformation. To ensure that everyday life, in 2030, looks very different to how it did in 2015. And to, essentially, do something we had never done before.

So, that is why the SDGs are universal. That is why partnerships are at their core. And that is why we cannot achieve them, without businesses.

And, yes, here I am talking about funding.

Because, without private resources, our prospects are bleak.

There is an annual investment gap of 2.5 trillion US dollars among developing countries alone. And there is simply no way to plug it, with traditional resources.

But we cannot reduce this issue, merely, down to funding.

There are so many more opportunities to be found in partnerships with the private sector. For example, cutting-edge technology, modalities for innovation, outreach and advocacy tools, or mechanisms for data collection.

And, in some cases, the private sector is directly driving the SDGs’ implementation, on the ground.

One example is Mastercard’s commitment to connecting 500 million people to the formal economy by 2020. This will help to lift people – including many small merchants – out of poverty.

Another example comes from Intel. It has adopted policies to boost recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities. And it has committed 300 million US dollars to enhancing diversity.

So, these are just two companies – working in a way that can drive goals on poverty and gender equality forward.

But there are so many other examples already out there.

And, I actually heard about some of them, when I invited business representatives to the United Nations in June, to discuss financing for development.

And there are even more, I hope, to come.

So, the SDGs need businesses; that is clear.

But the same is true, in reverse.

Because businesses, in turn, need the SDGs. And that is my second point today.

The 2030 Agenda is a treasure trove of opportunities.

They can open up market space. They can create new demands for services and commodities… And, according to the 2017 Report of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, they can generate up to 12 trillion US dollars in business savings.

Also, consumers are responding to sustainability. According to Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, released in 2016, 66 percent of customers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. And this actually rises to a staggering 73 percent among millennials.

But the SDGs are not just beneficial; they are necessary.

I do not think it is a stretch to say that there can be no business without sustainability.

Because, let’s face it, we are on an unsustainable course.

If we keep going the way we are going; if we put off necessary action, until tomorrow; if we let the 2030 Agenda remain an ideal, rather than a reality, things will not, simply, stay as they are.

We will see drastic change. And not for the better.

This will affect people and the planet. And both need to thrive, for businesses to survive.

So, the SDGs need businesses. And businesses need the SDGs.

Which is why it is so crucial that we see business progress on the SDGs.

But the thing is: we can’t see progress without measurement.

We decided to aim for real transformation. To ensure that everyday life, in 2030, looks very different to how it did in 2015. And to, essentially, do something we had never done before. 


President of the UN General Assembly

Which brings us to the topic of this lunch – and to my final point today.

If we want to accelerate investment, we need to track progress.

This is just the way the world works.

And it is great that we are all here today – to address it.

This lunch is an opportunity to talk about best practices.

For example, Aviva’s World Benchmarking Alliance. This offers free, public league tables – which are aligned to all 17 SDGs. The aim is to drive sustainable behaviour and responsible investments.

Another example is the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, by UNCTAD. This can be a resource for companies that want to enhance their environmental, social and governance reporting.

We need to hear about these and other exciting initiatives.

But we cannot pretend that the best practices are the norm.

Actually, there are serious gaps in the measurement of business progress on the SDGs.

Some companies have not integrated the 17 Goals into their reporting. At all.

Others have – but many have yet to do so in a way that tangibly tracks progress.

According to recent research by KPMG, 40 percent of top companies acknowledge the SDGs in their corporate reporting.

But less than 10 percent of them have reported a business case for action on the SDGs, or set measurable business performance targets.

So, this is where you all come in.

Please share your experience. Tell us your ideas. Be frank regarding what has and has not worked, in your own reporting cycles. Point to the resources which have been most useful. And, most importantly, tell us –within the UN system – what we can do to help you.

And, before I conclude, I want to flag that I am putting together a “toolbox” – based on an event I hosted last June, on financing for the SDGs. It will include an overview of best practices and some of the key recommendations made by financial actors. I hope we can feed today’s discussion into it.

So, excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

If you are here, you already understand what we all have to gain by partnering on the SDGs. And what we all have to lose, if we continue with business as usual.

Now it is time to scale up. We need to bring others to the table. And we need to ensure that we see more and more discussions, like this one today.

Thank you all again.