5 Insights from 2015 Responsible Business Forum for Sustainable Development
What we learnt from a recent gathering of 500 business leaders, NGOs, policy-makers and investors from around the world to discuss Sustainable Development
A couple of weeks back our team joined the 4th Responsible Business Forum of Sustainable Development held in Singapore. 2015 is seen as a potentially historic year if the new climate treaty is agreed in Paris, so Climate Change naturally was the theme of the forum.
The idea behind the #RBFSingapore series has been to gather business leaders, NGOs, policy-makers and investors from around the world to share innovations and agree on practical solutions for delivering sustainable business — and delivering the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As a social enterprise working on transformative projects which enable companies to discover and reconnect with a higher purpose of social and environmental development, the big question on my mind walking into the conference was:
“How will a forum attended by people and organisations who seek to be responsible truly represent conflicting aspirations of today’s world?”
Aggressive companies demand rapid business growth and yet employees are searching for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose at work beyond their paycheck. Families in developing countries yearn for prosperity and yet communities in the same countries live on the brink of poverty and hunger. All this is happening while our planet continues to face a future of ever-scarcer natural resources, man-made natural disasters and a warmer climate.
Although I didn’t expect to have an answer, at the end of the forum I felt a growing sense of authenticity among companies and business leaders in wanting to work towards the global SDGs.
This is a great start and an important first step — because I believe that more than governments or NGOs, it is businesses that have the greatest ability today to tackle these goals.
Throughout the 2 days of the forum and various breakout sessions we attended, there were thought-provoking discussions, scary statistics, a whole heap of catchy one-liners and tons of tweets.
I thought I’d summarise my key insights into 6 of the SDGs that I felt got significant attention:
INSIGHT #1. The Need for Climate Action (SDG#13)
There is an urgent need to make the impacts of climate change real and get our act as a global society together. During the forum the Climate Action SDG was referenced several times. The topical Southeast Asian transboundary haze came up repeatedly in discussions and Q&As during panel sessions.
Issues like the haze make climate change real — and act as a reminder for climate action. They make most people read up about man’s impact on nature or talk to others or write or even think of creative solutions. However, there are other longer-term, irrevocable impacts of climate change that are silently brewing away but most of us don’t realise it till one day we begin to face direct consequences.
For example, even if world manages to limit global warming to 2°C — the target number for current climate negotiations — sea levels may still rise to at least 6 meters or 20 feet (enough to swallow up your entire office till the roof)! A 3°C hotter world sounds like a recipe for disaster.
INSIGHT #2. Greater Relationship Between Women (SDG#2) and Food (SDG#5)
More men across Asia are moving into cities in search of better economic opportunities. Women therefore are taking on farming occupations on top of balancing the household.
Unfortunately women in rural communities are not well educated, which means women farmers often do not have access to innovative farming techniques, financing opportunities or an ability to demand competitive prices. This increases the urgency of why it is important to provide education access to girls and women in developing countries.
INSIGHT #3. Impact of Food Waste (#SDG12)
UN’s Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that each year, approximately 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. The direct economic cost of this is about $750 billion per year — about the size of Switzerland’s annual GDP. And agriculture is estimated to account for around 15% of direct greenhouse gas emissions.
Fortunately, unlike some of the other SDGs, food waste is something we as consumers can fully control through more conscious consumption of our daily food and weekly groceries.
It also means an industry worth $750 billion is ready for innovation and if food waste is largely solved, we reduce global direct greenhouse gas emissions by 5%.
INSIGHT #4. Importance of Oceans (#SDG14)
One of my favourite presentations was by Ariel Fuchs from Sea Orbiter. He had a very visual and passionate story to tell about our oceans and why we need to explore. Sea Orbiter is a futuristic, scientific research vessel permanently based in the seas to enable us to better understand our oceans. The project successfully surpassed its £325,000 crowd-funding campaign target to build the vessel’s eye — a lookout post that sits above the ocean surface, and has also has secured 70% of its £35m budget.
The 51-meter tall vessel’s design is inspiring and once operational, it would be run by a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, educators and media professionals.
Oceans are after all 71% of our planet, a beautiful carbon sink & hold the key to better future.
INSIGHT #5. Partnership & Leadership (SDG#17)
One of the discussion topics that also kept re-appearing was how businesses should start collaborating with one another to achieve their own sustainability and community development goals as well as enable the world to make progress towards the SDGs.
This highlights the fact that days of true competition are over and its time companies began to collaborate for innovative solutions around tackling social and environmental challenges.
Some of our best one-to-one conversations were with business leaders from DSM — a Dutch multi-national which has started building financially viable propositions for environmentally and socially responsible products, Novartis — a global pharmaceutical company is building innovative distribution models that provide access to affordable medicines to treat chronic diseases in lower-income countries and Autodesk — a software company which through its Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact program is committed to helping early-stage startups and entrepreneurs in the social, cleantech, and environmental sectors get to market faster.
We are committing to work with organisations like these which are beginning to consciously change their business models, set ambitious social or environmental impact targets and attract top talent to help build and grow their new business models.
The forum helped us reaffirm that Sustainable Development is an opportunity that can bring together all of today’s buzz-words — innovation, disruption, value creation, sustainability and growth hacking and enable companies to discover a sense of purpose and meaning.
– By Ashwin Subramaniam, co-founder, Gone Adventurin’