A framework for the future: designing business to deliver the UN’s SDGs

The complexities of delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 risks overshadowing the opportunities businesses can play in creating lasting peace, ending poverty and protecting the planet.

The SDGs are universal and interconnected. Several, like, No Poverty and No Hunger, call for transforming the lives of billions of people in a short time. Such global ambitions require transformational solutions that go beyond incremental improvements. And even companies fully dedicated to delivering the SDGs need a clearer view of how to achieve them.  

That’s why we’ve worked with the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest network of organisations working on sustainability, and think-tank Volans to create the Framework for Breakthrough Impact on the SDGs Through Innovation. Leveraging our experience of delivering innovation for sustainability for clients around the world, it’s a practical toolkit that shows how companies can develop the solutions needed to meet the 2030 deadline.  

A toolkit for breakthrough innovation in sustainable development

The Framework helps companies orient their innovation processes to better address the SDGs by using disruptive technologies and new business models to build the breakthrough solutions the SDGs require. It builds on our experiences of using methodologies such as agile working, lean start-up and design thinking, which many organisations have already used to adapt to the increasing pace of technological and business change. 

Breakthrough Innovation is a term that defines a business agenda which accepts that incremental change is no longer enough for what comes next; that rapidly accelerating market disruptions offer new opportunities for those who move fast and in the right directions; and that companies that do business responsibly and find opportunities to innovate around the SDGs will be tomorrow’s market leaders.

Organisations can use the SDGs as a pathway to Breakthrough Innovation. By using the goals as problem statements to solve, innovation teams can uncover new market opportunities, rethink current approaches and markedly improve he performance of existing products and services. This offers opportunities to become more resilient and find ways to disrupt rather than be disrupted.

The SDGs are already bringing success to ingenious companies

We can already see this in action in businesses around the world. Ørsted, Denmark’s largest energy producer, has been leading the transformation to green energy. It produced just 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources in 2006, but by 2019 this had risen to 86 per cent. Today the company is the most sustainable company in the world. Interface, the carpet tile manufacturer, has been working on its goal of zero negative environmental impact since 1994. In 2017, having almost reached that goal, the company announced a new ambition to actively contribute to reversing global warming. Already, this is beginning to drive the quality of innovation around climate impacts.

Another example is Singapore-based Kaer, which has moved from being a distributor and installer of air conditioning units to supplying air-conditioning as a service. Instead of paying an upfront cost, customers pay a fixed rate for cool air. Kaer designs and installs air-con systems, ensuring they run effectively using IoT sensors, data analytics and artificial intelligence to optimise energy efficiency. This has cut energy consumption among customers by up to 70 per cent, reducing building operating costs by 10-20 per cent, while Kaer benefits from greater profits and better customer relationships.

And in Africa, Hello Tractor is addressing the continent’s tractor shortage, which has implications for people’s food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, with its low-cost, easily-repairable ‘smart’ vehicle. It also has an innovative Uber-like SMS platform that lets Smart Tractor owners rent them out easily, tracking usage and maintenance while preventing fraud and misuse.

By working to deliver the SDGs, companies are actively working to promote global harmony, improve the lives of millions and end poverty. Our Framework for Breakthrough Impact on the SDGs Through Innovation can help your business, and the world, thrive. The time to act is now.

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