Making SDG Singapore's Business

Singapore is stepping up to the task of fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals with the help of the business fabric.  By Mallika Naguran

Singapore, 23 June 2016. Singapore businesses were urged today to respond to pressing social and environmental issues by heeding the newly minted United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). 

At a thought leadership session organised by Global Compact Network Singapore (GCNS), a mix of small, medium and large companies listened to sustainability strategies and measures outlined by multinational conglomerate Unilever and Diageo as well as homegrown City Developments Limited (CDL). These ranged from conducting materiality assessments to setting sustainability targets, implementing corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, measuring performance and public reporting. 

Facilitating the Global Compact Network Singapore session was Junice Yeo of Corporate Citizenship (far left). Panelists were (from left) David Kiu of Unilever; Caroline Whatley of Save the Children; Georgie Passalaris of Diageo; and Esther An of CDL.

Diageo has a tool kit to help with communication of responsible operations down its supply chain, according to its Sustainable Development Manager (Skills & Empowerment), Georgie Passalaris.

The event hosted by Unilever at its premises in Singapore also featured break out sessions, which gave the 80 participants the opportunity to clarify what the SGDs meant and how their companies could align their business operations along with the 17 goals. 

But not all goals need to be met, according to the presenters, at least not right away. “Just choose those that fit into your business operations first and work on them,” said Esther An, Chief Sustainability Officer of CDL. The publicly listed property developer has plans in place to address nine SDGs, that includes targeting 35% of building materials to be derived from recycled, low-carbon or certified sources within the next 14 years.

Unilever has, according to David Kiu, VP, Sustainable Business & Communications for Unilever, “identified areas where we can make the biggest contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals given the nature and scale of our operations, and how this will add value to our business.” 

The Singapore Business Case

On 25 September 2015, member countries of the United Nations adopted a set of goals and associated targets to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all” as part of the new agenda for sustainable development. However, governments concede that the private sector and civil society play a critical role in gearing countries to meet the goals and accompanying 169 targets by 2030.

Singapore is no different.  Local and foreign-owned companies based in Singapore have begun to see the benefits of incorporating sustainability into the business mantra. This involves reviewing business operations to minimise waste, energy and resources to help improve the bottom line. Companies have also begun to see positive outcomes from working with various stakeholders to help meet their CSR goals. 

Wilson Ang: Step change needed.Commenting on the need for a larger societal commitment, Wilson Ang, Executive Director of GCNS, said, “Governments that have committed to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals realise it will require a step change in the way that private sector, public sector and civil society work together.”

GCNS plans to help with this transition by reaching out to the diverse industry segments - from real estate, travel to financial services. “The direction going forward is to help companies first understand where they are and assist them in planning towards achieving sustainability through a framework we have,” said Ang. “We will be doing this in partnership with the consultant community in Singapore,” he added.   

Targeting GCNS members first and then SGX listed companies, Ang and his team in Singapore will be rolling out a series of CEO Briefings and foundation workshops. The next group to be tackled would be the largest pool - GCNS’ principal member Singapore Business Federation and its 22,500 member companies.

“GCNS believes that exchanges like today’s event is a good example of bringing these stakeholders together to drive the system changes needed towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said Ang. 

Over 400 companies in Singapore have become members of GCNS since its inception in 2005 with one common mission - striving to make sustainability their business case.