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By striving to become future-fit® companies can be sure they are helping – and in no way hindering – progress toward the UN SDGs.

Future‑Fitness and the Sustainable Development Goals

In September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a view to ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity for all. Each SDG is accompanied by a set of targets for 2030, and we all need to play our part to reach them. But what does that mean for business? In some industries (such as energy and agriculture) there are obvious areas of alignment, but in fact every company can make a clear and credible contribution to all SDGs by pursuing future-fit goals. Read on to find out how.

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Poverty is about more than lack of income. It is about ensuring everyone has the resources and resilience needed to secure a sustainable livelihood.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: reduce social discrimination and exclusion; ensure people have equal rights to economic and natural resources, as well as ownership/control over land and other property; provide access to basic services; and reduce people’s exposure and vulnerability to economic, social and environmental shocks.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Paying its employees a living wage and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain can afford access to basic services for their families, thus increasing their resilience to unexpected economic, social and environmental shocks.
  • Offering its employees fair employment terms and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are not subject to bonded, slave or child labor, and that they can expect decent working conditions (including the right to collective bargaining, paid holiday, parental leave and reasonable working hours).
  • Using materials that derive from sources that respect communities, ecosystems and animals: this ensures that any natural resources the business relies on (e.g. those embedded in its products) are obtained without undermining the resilience of local communities (e.g. not sourcing conflict minerals, protecting regional biodiversity).
  • Eliminating encroachment into ecosystems or communities and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that the physical presence of business operations does not undermine the resilience of local communities (e.g. respecting land and resource rights, preserving natural flood defences).
  • Using water in an environmentally responsible and socially equitable way and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that business operations do not undermine the ability of local communities to access fresh water for drinking, sanitation and food production.

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2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Hundreds of millions of people today go hungry, while unsustainable farming practices degrade soil quality, use too much water, reduce biodiversity, and put rural communities under pressure.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: ensure everyone has access to safe and nutritious food; increase the productivity of small-scale food producers through better access to natural and economic resources and knowledge; implement resilient and sustainable farming practices that improve soil quality and resource availability; and put an end to counterproductive trade restrictions in world agricultural markets.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Health is a fundamental human right and a key indicator of sustainable development. In recent years notable progress has been made, but significant challenges remain.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: reduce maternal mortality and preventable deaths of newborns and young children; reduce mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment; promote mental health and wellbeing; ensure universal health coverage and access to sexual and reproductive health care services; substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution; and halve the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Paying its employees a living wage and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain can afford access to basic services – including health care – for their families.
  • Offering its employees fair employment terms and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain have the right to financially-supported parental leave, thus increasing economic resilience and protecting the welfare of mothers and newborn children.
  • Safeguarding employee health and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workplaces across the value chain are conducive to the mental and physical wellbeing of all workers, and in particular that preventable accidents are eliminated (e.g. through adequate training programs).
  • Ensuring products do not harm people or the environment: this ensures that products do not cause harm as a likely consequence of their use, and that products do not release substances that (a) directly impact people’s health, or (b) indirectly do so by disrupting ecosystems.
  • Eliminating operational emissions that harm people or the environment and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that business operations do not emit harmful substances into the air (e.g. gaseous pollutants), land (e.g. hazardous pesticides) and water (e.g. effluents and spills).

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4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Education is the cornerstone of a healthy society. It empowers people to improve their lives and futures, and affords them the knowledge and competencies necessary for sustainable development.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: ensure that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary education, and have access to quality early childhood development and care; secure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education; substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills for decent jobs and entrepreneurship; eliminate disparities in education; and ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Paying its employees a living wage and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain can afford access to basic services – including primary and secondary education for their children – and that their income is sufficient for them to send their children to school, not work.
  • Offering its employees fair employment terms and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are offered reasonable working hours and financially supported parental leave, thus affording them enough time and resources to foster early childhood development.
  • Eliminating employee discrimination and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain, including women and minority groups, have equal access to employment, training and advancement opportunities.

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5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit communities and society at large.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls everywhere; recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, and promote shared responsibility within the household and the family; and secure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Eliminating employee discrimination and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that male and female workers across the value chain have equal access to employment, training and advancement opportunities.
  • Offering its employees fair employment terms and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that male and female workers across the value chain are offered financially supported parental leave, thus recognising the value of and promoting shared responsibility for childcare.
  • Safeguarding employee health and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workplaces across the value chain are conducive to the mental and physical wellbeing of all workers, and in particular that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence against women.
  • Actively soliciting, impartially judging and transparently addressing employee concerns and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are empowered to voice concerns over inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour, and that such concerns are handled appropriately.

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6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Access to clean freshwater is a fundamental human right, yet millions of people today do not have access to clean water for drinking, cooking and sanitation.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: achieve universal access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all; improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials; halve the proportion of untreated wastewater; substantially increase water-use efficiency and reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity by ensuring sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater; protect and restore water-related ecosystems; and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today. Access for all to affordable, reliable, renewable and clean energy is essential for sustainable development.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services; substantially increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix; double the rate of energy efficiency; and facilitate access to and promote investment in clean energy research, technology and infrastructure.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Sustainable economic growth requires society to create conditions that allow the whole working age population to have quality jobs which stimulate the economy while not harming the environment.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: increase global resource efficiency in consumption and production and decouple economic growth from environmental degradation; achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, with equal pay for equal work; eradicate slavery, forced labour and child labour; and protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Using materials that derive from sources that respect communities, ecosystems and animals: this ensures that any natural resources the business relies on (e.g. those embedded in its products) are obtained without degrading the environment (e.g. by using recycled materials to reduce demand for virgin resources).
  • Paying its employees a living wage and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are fairly and sustainably compensated.
  • Eliminating employee discrimination and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain – including women and minority groups – have equal access to employment, training and advancement opportunities.
  • Offering its employees fair employment terms and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are not subject to bonded, slave or child labor, and that they can expect decent working conditions (including the right to collective bargaining, paid holiday, parental leave and reasonable working hours).
  • Safeguarding employee health and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workplaces across the value chain are conducive to the mental and physical wellbeing of all workers.
  • Actively soliciting, impartially judging and transparently addressing employee concerns and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are empowered to voice concerns over breaches to their rights, and that such concerns are handled appropriately.
  • Conducting business ethically: this ensures that mechanisms are in place to enable the company – and all of its employees – to pursue sustainable economic growth by preventing, identifying, managing and acknowledging ethical breaches (e.g. implementing policies that respect the spirit of natural and international law, and equipping employees to respond appropriately if offered bribes).

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9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

Growth in productivity and incomes, and improvements in health and education, require innovation and investment in critical infrastructure such as transport, irrigation, energy, and information technology.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: upgrade and develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure; and retrofit industries to increase resource-use efficiency and accelerate adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

Economic growth reduces poverty only if it is inclusive, yet inequality persists within and among countries, and large disparities remain in terms of access to health and education services and other assets.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average; empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all; ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action; and encourage financial flows to areas where the need is greatest.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Paying its employees a living wage and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain (and in particular the bottom 40% of the population) can afford a decent standard of living for their families.
  • Offering its employees fair employment terms and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are treated fairly and impartially in pursuit of greater equality.
  • Eliminating employee discrimination and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain – irrespective of age, gender, disability, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status – have equal access to employment, training and advancement opportunities.
  • Actively soliciting, impartially judging and transparently addressing employee concerns and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are empowered to voice concerns over unequal treatment or breaches to their rights, and that such concerns are handled appropriately.
  • Paying the right tax in the right place at the right time: this ensures that taxes flow fairly to support the development of physical and social infrastructure in those areas that the business depends upon.

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11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the number is increasing. For cities to thrive we must address the pressures that rapid urbanization is placing on freshwater, infrastructure, air quality and people’s health.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services including transport; enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage; significantly reduce the number of people adversely affected by disasters; and reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, paying special attention to air quality and waste management.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Sustainable consumption and production aims to do more and better with less, increasing net welfare gains from economic activities that reduce resource use, degradation and pollution.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources; halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains; achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil; substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse; ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information to live sustainable lives; and rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

The effects of climate change - from changing weather patterns and more extreme weather events to rising sea levels - are impacting all countries, disrupting national economies and affecting people's lives.

This SDG* has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries; integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning; and promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

* Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

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14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive natural processes that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Careful management of this global resource is critical to our future.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities; sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration; minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification; effectively regulate harvesting and end destructive fishing practices; and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Land degradation, deforestation and desertification - caused by human activities and climate change - pose big challenges to sustainable development and undermine the livelihoods of millions of people.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems; halt deforestation, substantially increase reforestation, combat desertification and restore degraded land and soil; ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems and reduce the degradation of natural habitats; halt the loss of biodiversity and protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species; take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species; and prevent the introduction of invasive alien species.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

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16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Trust is the foundation of a strong and resilient society. To foster trust, we must ensure that institutions at all levels are accountable, transparent, inclusive and just.

This SDG has several 2030 targets to which every company can contribute. These targets aim to: significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere; end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence against children; significantly reduce illicit financial flows; combat organized crime and reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms; develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions; and ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

A future-fit company contributes to these aims by:

  • Conducting business ethically: this ensures that mechanisms are in place to enable the company – and all of its employees – to foster trust by preventing, identifying, managing and acknowledging ethical breaches (e.g. implementing policies that respect the spirit of natural and international law, and equipping employees to respond appropriately if offered bribes).
  • Lobbying for outcomes that do not hinder progress: this ensures that no effort to influence market dynamics (by the company or any third party acting on its behalf) is done in a way that undermines the transparency or accountability of institutions at any level, or that could undermine progress towards sustainable development, justice for all, and the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
  • Actively soliciting, impartially judging and transparently addressing employee concerns and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that workers across the value chain are empowered to voice concerns over unequal treatment, unethical behaviour, or breaches to their rights, and that such concerns are handled appropriately.
  • Actively soliciting, impartially judging and transparently addressing community concerns and actively encouraging suppliers to do the same: this ensures that communities across the value chain are empowered to voice concerns about the company’s activities, and that such concerns are handled appropriately.
  • Actively soliciting, impartially judging and transparently addressing customer concerns: this ensures that customers (and organisations working on their behalf) are empowered to voice concerns about potentially harmful aspects of products, and that such concerns are handled appropriately.

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17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

To realise the sustainable development agenda will require effective, ambitious partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society - at a global, national and local level.

For such partnerships to succeed, every party needs a shared vision of where we need to get to, plus confidence that all other parties are willing and able to play their part. By embracing the pursuit of future-fitness, any company – no matter what its size or sector – can show it is serious about making the SDGs a reality.

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