Your 2030 Sustainability Targets Are Wrong – Forbes
Remember how 2020 was going to be the big year for sustainability?
At Futerra, we’d plotted a transformation strategy for the ‘decisive decade’, leading up to 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals. My schedule was packed with vital conferences on sustainability in sport, the breakthrough biodiversity event in China, and of course the massive climate summit, COP26, to be held in Glasgow. Our corporate clients had a wealth of options for launching their shiny new 2030 targets.
Expectations were running high about what these big announcements might contain. The mass youth protests sparked by Greta’s school strike had pushed climate to the top of the business agenda. 181 CEOs declared that creating shareholder value was no longer the sole purpose of a corporation. Impetus even emerged from the heart of finance; with Larry Fink of BlackRock promising to exit high carbon investments. Whilst wildfires across Australia added an emotional urgency and public outrage to demands for low-carbon action. The watershed of MeToo and the Women’s Marches continued to reverberate through business with gender pay gaps on the agenda. Brand purpose was the top buzzword for marketers.
It was going to be a big year.
Then everything fell apart.
The global coronavirus pandemic has overthrown every plan, and most of our lives. Billions are affected already, and the virus will likely touch every human life. Sustainability teams have struggled to pivot overnight towards providing emergency support for staff and local communities. Carefully planned strategy launches are frozen as the big conferences disappear.
Then the brutal murder of George Floyd cut through into public consciousness in a way so many previous police killings of black men and women, shamefully, hadn’t. Black Lives Matter protests spread from the USA to the EU, Brazil, Canada, India and beyond. A different pandemic, of injustice and brutality, finally became visible to those of us who had known, but never properly seen, it before.
In this world, aren’t your carefully honed 2030 sustainability targets, frankly, embarrassing?
Pandemic, protests, climate change, inequality, infodemics, rise of populism and nationalism. It’s as if the pressures and hard choices we expected during the ‘decisive decade’ (and many we didn’t) have been squeezed into this single year. And each of these colossal challenges deserve a singular focus and detailed strategy from businesses seeking to navigate them with honour. Some, like climate change, asking us for technical brilliance and others, especially in the case of race, demand that every business leader visit the private places of our own hearts where bias can lurk.
So, do we throw out the targets and just ride the wave of change? Or can 2030 sustainability targets contribute to solving these interconnected, complicated and desperately urgent needs?
I hope and passionately believe the latter. Because the upheavals for 2020 are all united by a word that the business community has seemed allergic to, and yet are going to have to become adept with: ‘justice’.
Climate justice, economic justice, racial justice. The idea of justice is a deep, interpretive but intuitive concept which we all understand from the first moment we demand ‘fairness’ as a child. But if justice is to become the lodestone for sustainability by 2030 then we must move from the conceptual to the concrete. I call for Environmental and Social Governance ‘ESG’ to elevate into Environmental and Social Justice or ‘ESJ’. One way to initiate this would be for SDG 16: Peace and Justice, currently neglected by business, to become the filter through which all other targets are seen. Especially in terms of the 2030 United Nations target to “Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”
What of all those corporate 2030 targets themselves? The promises to go net-zero carbon, to reach 50% women in leadership or to launch a new green label on your products? Which simply don’t feel adequate anymore.
Could we imagine those commitments being revisited in the framework of:
· Climate Justice – invest in climate adaption, plan for a ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels and work to alleviate the unequal impact of climate change.
· Racial and Intersectional Justice – dig deep on equal pay and equal representation targets, measure your inclusion culture not just diversity numbers and look to solidarity in sourcing and ownership.
· Economic Justice and Inclusivity – proudly pay full taxes, recognise roll in poverty working conditions and work towards intergenerational justice.
· Honesty and Transparency– on lobbying, polices and impacts – all the pay through to product level.
· Restoration – for the ecosystems you depend upon and operate within, for agriculture, for sourcing from land or sea and even for exploited/neglected communities.
To be fair, some business leaders have been using this language in the last few months, and many campaigners have been calling for it for decades – especially black, young and indigenous right activists.
This can’t wait. Despite the lack of high-profile events, thousands of companies will have no choice but launch their 2030 targets in the next few months, as their 2020 journey ends. That gives us a tiny, but still possible, window to reset the entire business agenda for the next decade. I will be raising the need for new justice commitments with my clients, as I’m raising it publicly on this platform. And I will promote the voices of those who have long crusaded for the interdependence of social and environmental justice.
Not sure your business can be this ambitious? Do it anyway. Acknowledge, humbly, how far away from this justice agenda your business currently is. But, equally recognise that justice is the only context you can set your 2030 sustainability ambition within.
This year demands nothing less.
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