Businesses, as with other sectors in society, are not yet taking sufficient action towards achieving sustainability. The United Nations recently agreed upon a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which if properly harnessed, provide a framework (so far lacking) for businesses to meaningfully drive transformations to sustainability. This paper proposes to operationalize the SDGs for businesses through a progressive framework for action with three discrete levels: communication, tactical, and strategic. Within the tactical and strategic levels, several innovative approaches are discussed and illustrated. The challenges of design and measurement as well as opportunities for accountability and the social side of Sustainability, together call for transdisciplinary, collective action. This paper demonstrates feasible pathways and approaches for businesses to take corporate social responsibility to the next level and utilize the SDG framework informed by sustainability science to support transformations towards the achievement of sustainability.
Current efforts to drive business Sustainability are improving but still falling short of the transformational impact needed. This paper explores the potential of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to contribute to improved business Sustainability. Research revealed significant challenges including: a disconnect between the design of the SDGs and the needs of businesses, significant measurement difficulties and an already existing momentum to integrate the SDGs without disrupting the status quo. The big opportunity is that the SDGs are a universally agreed upon definition of Sustainability which fully integrates the “social” side. The specificity and structure of the SDGs also creates the opportunity for accountability based on outcomes and impacts rather than inputs and the development of businesses strategies with the potential for transformation. Work is needed to transform the SDGs themselves into a tool which can usefully contribute to business Sustainability, but the opportunities suggest it will be worthwhile.