How Small & Medium Enterprises Can Support the Sustainable Development Goals

September 24, 2018 Gary Levante

In 2015, 193 world leaders came together at the United Nations to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal call to action adopted by all nations to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people can enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The seventeen SDGs use a common language to provide a blueprint for action in local cities and towns across the globe. As we celebrate Global Goals Week, a time dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring action in support of the SDGs during the United Nations General Assembly, I can’t help but think of the progress that has been made, the work that still needs to be done and the untapped potential of small and medium enterprises (SME) everywhere.

At Berkshire Bank, an SME ourselves, we have a long standing commitment to social responsibility. We believe it’s our primary purpose to help all individuals realize life’s exciting moments. We use a multitude of tactics to bring this purpose to life in the communities where we do business including harnessing the expertise, skills and passions of our employees through our XTEAM corporate volunteer program. In each of the last two years we’ve achieved a 100% employee participation rate, employees have logged more than 80,000 hours of volunteer service and we set a bold goal to impact a million individuals though our volunteer work in 2018, which I’m proud to say we are well on our way to achieving.

That commitment to harnessing our business for good, and the belief that we are all part of the same globally connected ecosystem, are some of the reasons why we’re aligning our social responsibility programs to the SDGs. The SDGs represent a $12 trillion[1] market opportunity for the private sector so it’s not just about social responsibility, its good business. For starters, Berkshire Bank is mapping our existing community investments to the SDGs, including employee volunteerism, so that we can identify which SDGs we’re already supporting and how we may be able to amplify our impact. In addition to this work, we were the first SME to join IMPACT2030, a collaboration between the United Nations, academia and the private sector with a mission to advance the SDGs by activating human capital investments through employee volunteer programs. In addition, I offered to serve as the Regional Voice Lead for the initiative in New England (US). We’re also bringing non-profit and business partners together to tackle issues that align with the SDGs in our local community.  This week, we partnered with Common Impact, SVP Boston and IMPACT2030 to launch Skills for Cities-Boston, a city-wide day of skills based volunteer service to support the SDGs. The first event of its kind, Skills for Cities-Boston brings together a diverse cross sector of businesses to work with non-profits to address some of Boston’s most pressing social issues. The goal isn’t just to execute a successful event in Boston, but to develop a cross-company, city-wide model for skilled service in support of the SDGs that can be replicated in other cities across the country.

All the global goals will require local action to be successful, which is why I believe it’s absolutely necessary for more small and medium enterprises like Berkshire Bank to join the effort.  With 99% of all businesses in the US being SMEs who employ more than 50%[2] of all workers, there is tremendous untapped potential in this space. I’m not just talking about the bakers, restaurants, or retailers on main street – although I’d argue they also have an important role to play – but the local banks, accountants, lawyers, engineers and many more businesses and individuals who all have unique skills to contribute. While SMEs may not have the financial resources or subject matter expertise of their larger counterparts, they do have the skills and local relationships. So it begs the question: How can small and medium sized businesses get involved in a way that makes sense for them?

I believe there are five steps every SME can take to get involved and support the achievement of the SDGs:

  1. Educate Yourself: Visit websites like https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org or impact2030.com and look at what other businesses are doing to support the achievement of the SDGs. There is no one size fits all approach.
  2. Identify Goals: Look at 2-3 of the goals that resonate with your businesses and map your existing philanthropy, volunteer and core business activities to those SDGs. Remember to keep them manageable and simple.
  3. Take Action: Get involved and engaged. Leverage your whole business, not just your social responsibility programs, to make a difference in a way that’s meaningful for your stakeholders.
  4. Create Partnerships: Much like Berkshire Bank’s efforts to help launch Skills For Cities-Boston, look for unique opportunities to collaborate with businesses of all sizes, pool resources and amplify your impact. Collaboration is at the heart of the SDGs and the reason why SDG #17 is partnership for the goals.
  5. Report & Communicate: Celebrate your successes and communicate using an SDG lens. Tell your audience how your local actions roll up to the larger global goals.

Beyond these five steps, there is no shortage of other resources available online to help you on your journey. And remember, if we’re able to harness as little as ten percent of all the SMEs in the US to support the SDGs, we’ll be well on our way to making significant progress on each of the seventeen goals. Who’s with us?

 

[1] Better Business Better World Report- Business & Sustainable Development Commission
[2] US Census Bureau

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