This blog was originally posted in Danish in Børsen on March 16, 2018. To view it there, click here


Companies around the world are trying to crack the code and generate new business models that contribute to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They do so because success is increasingly linked to sustainable development. New collaboration models, ecosystems and partnerships, as well as a strong focus on innovation, can be the way forward for companies.


By Camilla Brückner, Director, UNDP Nordic Representation Office, Mads Lebech, CEO, The Danish Industry Foundation and Martin Søegaard, Partner, Deloitte Consulting


This was the message from The Danish Industry Foundation when it hosted its INSPIRE day inviting top executives from Danish business to discuss and identify some of the challenges and opportunities faced in the industrial community. A major point was the fact that companies can win new markets if they invest in sustainability and link their business strategies to the global challenges addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With the 17 SDGs, the UN has put forward the objective that both citizens, businesses and governments – to a far greater extent – need to create sustainable solutions and support a sustainable future. The so-called Global Goals can kickstart a global sustainability quest for countries and companies with the capabilities and potential to deliver solutions that can contribute to achieving the goals of ensuring quality education and health to everyone, handling environmental challenges, reducing inequality, and promoting gender equality, job creation as well as sustainable economic growth and consumption.

No less than 193 countries have reached the agreement on the 17 SDGs, as well as a wide range of related targets. The demand for sustainable solutions has thus been formalized, materialized and increased throughout the world, which creates unique opportunities for Danish companies – opportunities that require focus and targeted efforts.

Many Danish companies have what it takes. With quality products in energy, water, urban development, education, health and welfare, Danish companies can deliver solutions that can pull down some of the barriers we are facing in achieving the SDGs.

Indeed, many Danish companies have already expressed their interest and good intentions. Yet, difficulties in turning the goals into concrete action and integrating them into corporate strategies remain. Especially in small and medium-sized enterprises that do not always possess the capabilities and resources to embark on the task. So how do we help them getting started?


A small piece of a big market

The SDGs are estimated to generate market opportunities of at least $12 trillion US dollars - a market that Danish businesses can get a piece of. However, this will require a strong focus on realizing the individual company's potential and needs and subsequently operationalizing the SDGs in specific business models and products.

A good place to start is working with innovation in the company. Can we lift the commitment of Danish companies to the SDGs and help them develop innovative business ideas that contribute to achieving the SDGs, thereby turning the goals into concrete actions and results? There are many opportunities, and by using the SDGs as a lever for innovation, there is a great chance that one's innovation efforts match the global market needs.

In collaboration with The Danish Industry Foundation and Deloitte, UNDP’s Nordic Representation Office created a new initiative called the SDG Accelerator. Based on UNDP and Deloitte’s respective experiences, the project assists a number of industrial companies in developing new business models based on the SDGs, thereby leading the way for other companies to join the movement. The project has several components. Firstly, the project targets both management and employee engagement in the agenda, and secondly it focuses on identifying new business opportunities and the creation of profitable products and solutions that contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.

To begin with, the project concentrates on the participating companies. However, the tools and methods developed in the process will serve to encourage and enable more companies to work with the SDGs.


Business goals and Sustainable Development Goals go hand in hand

The SDGs can become part of business strategies because it can generate profits while at the same time contributing positively to the society we live and work in.

The Danish society is therefore increasingly looking at business as a driver for change and for achieving global sustainable development. A recent survey including 350 executives conducted by Deloitte furthermore shows that 92 percent of business leaders support the SDG agenda. Yet, only 17 per cent think they have the right programs in place to help achieve the SDGs by 2030.

Lack of motivation is not an issue. Many have realized that doing business and contributing to a better world go hand in hand, and of course, we hope that the SDG Accelerator can translate the good intentions into successful and targeted action.

Examples of this can be found at the company Grodan. Based on Rockwool's stone wool, as we know from the isolation of our houses, Grodan has produced a material for growing vegetables. Grodan recycles all water in the system and this solution reduces the amount of water used to grow 1 kg of tomatoes from 60 liters to 4 liters, reduces CO2 emissions by 10-15 percent and increases the harvest by 15-40 percent. All this helps, especially when considering the fact that we are to feed 8.6 billion people on earth by 2030.


New collaboration models and ecosystems

In addition to product innovations and well-designed solutions, new partnerships and models for collaboration should be considered. Novozymes is a prime example of this with their new ways of pursuing future business areas. Novozymes has created the HelloScience platform, an open innovation initiative that will establish collaborations between entrepreneurs and researchers worldwide around global challenges. In this way, large companies can use competencies and resources to help smaller businesses move towards the shared objective of achieving profit and sustainability at the same time.

The more people we get on board, the more likely it is that the SDGs will be achieved. New ecosystems must be created by companies, managers, employees, universities, global actors and business organizations. Cross-collaboration does not exist in a sufficient amount today, and consequently there is plenty of room for national and global alliances focusing on business and sustainability.

With the SDG Accelerator we will show that the SDG agenda and the SDGs can be used for innovation, business development and new market entries. In this way, the private sector's commitment to the sustainability agenda can also be accelerated. We therefore concentrate on the small and medium-sized companies of which we have so many in Denmark. We need them to join the movement and gain new market shares – the sooner, the better.