Lila Karbassi is the Chief of Programs at the United Nations Global Compact. The UNGC exists to help companies implement the UN Global Goals, track their progress, and give them tools to continually improve their practices.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- What is the UN Global Compact, and who is involved?
- Why should companies adopt the Sustainable Development Goals?
- How does the UNGC help companies implement the SDGs into their business?
- What will happen to the planet in the next 5 years if business practices don’t change?
- What are some of the top initiatives?
- Do you think we’re on pace to hit the SDG’s by 2030?
What is the United Nations Global Compact and what are you set out to solve?
The UN Global Compact is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. We have 9,500 companies in 165 countries. And our vision is to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create the world we’d want.
So all these companies, nearly 10,000 companies, make a commitment to do business responsibly by aligning their strategies and their operations with 10 principles, which touch upon human rights, labor rights, the environment, and anti-corruption. These companies also take action toward broader societal goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
What is your personal mission for what you’d like to create in the world and how you got involved with the UNGC?
I got involved with the UNGC nearly 15 years ago. I was at that time in business school getting my MBA and I was fascinated by the universality of the values of the United Nations. I was very intrigued about how the United Nations worked with business.
So at that time I heard about a new initiative of the UN that was just launched, the global compact. I realized this was the best place to try to make a change in the world, and I decided to put all my energy, my time, and my efforts to advance the mission of the Global Compact.
That’s about 15 years ago. The global goals were adopted in 2015, the same year. The Paris Agreement was signed also by all of the members. These two landmark agreements shape much of the work that we do at the UN.
Why should companies around the world at the end of the day adopt the SDGs?
Well, there’s a great interest on the side of the companies for the SDGs and it’s very clear that these goals have now been adopted by 193 member states. We’re three years into the goals. No single nation or sector can address the 17 global goals alone. So the private sector, the investment community, the impacts investor community, they all have a very important role to play.
Lila also mentions specific benefits of taking on the UN Global Goals as a company:
- Shaping the sustainability agenda
- For investment, the goals help to sort which companies are addressing certain topics or taking on certain business models
- The mindset that: in order to be effective as a company to address the goals, you need to take full account of your positive and negative effects across your value chain.
For those that have been listening to this podcast for a while, we’ve been talking all about the global goals, right? So we have 17 major global goals with 169 specific sub-targets. And then we have 232 indicators, which are kind of like the KPIs that we’re using to measure the progress on these goals.
So I’m really intrigued to hear about the 10 principles the UNGC uses to integrate the SDG’s into a business.
The principles are extremely helpful for companies to understand what their positive and negative impacts can be on society. They can be a very helpful tool also for companies to prioritize which of the SDGs are more relevant to their organization.
Okay. Got It. So the principles show how you should tackle the global goals and then the global goals are really like the “what.” So the 10 principles break down into four main categories, which are human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.
So regardless of whatever type of business you have or whatever industry you’re in, and whatever global goal you want to tackle, regardless of the global goal, the United Nations Global Compact would recommend that you implement these categories of principles.
Tips to Take on The SDG’s
- Avoid the concept of Cherry-picking, or picking one or two favorite SDGs and ignoring the fact that you could have on other topics.
- The concept of blue washing. Or having some activities that do not address one of the issues and the targets behind the SDGs while still portraying your organization as making a very solid contribution to two particular topics.
- Look at the interconnectedness between the goals. There many interconnections between the different goals.
These are explained in the guidance material that we put forth. We put out, for example, the practical guide on how to report on the SDGs._
So how does the United Nations Global Compact recommend to businesses all around the world, big and small, right? Like, hey, maybe I’m a solo entrepreneur and versus a Fortune 500. How do you recommend that we measure our impact on the SDGs?
There are many ways to measure impact. This is a very hot topic at the moment.
Most of the time the tools that we have get you to a measurement of your outcomes, which is slightly different from measuring the impact that you can have on society, on people and the planet.
So for example, at the moment we are working with a partner organization called B Lab. We’re developing a platform that would help companies assess their performance across each of the 17 goals and also across the 10 principles of the Global Compact. Each of the 17 goals would have a very long list of questions associated with them that are tagged to targets and the indicators of the SDGs. That would be the most comprehensive tool on the market. We’re expecting to launch this to in early 2020 and we’ve been working on it for about two years now.
We actually had them on the podcast recently as well and they’re developing this incredible dashboard. Super excited to hear that it’s going to integrate with the SDGs so you can really track your impact at all levels internally and externally.
What are some of the top other initiatives that the UNGC is working on that business owners around the world should know about right now?
At the moment, one of the platforms that is very popular is on the topic of ocean sustainability and sustainable ocean businesses. This is a working group that is looking at setting up some guidelines, some general recommendations for how businesses should operate.
These companies together with us are creating a set of guidelines that would help any industry that has anything to do with with the ocean.We know we have about 12 years to take drastic action on climate change to reduce our global emissions or we risk facing irreversible damage on the planet. The latest science tells us that we need to stay below 1.5 degrees warming, but the current trajectory for the emissions… if we continue with business as usual… we will reach 3.5 degrees warming by mid-century and this would bring real catastrophic damage to all of us.
Fantastic. I mean, we have got to figure out a solution to climate change. We hear it from all different sorts of angles… it’s so interesting to hear we have 12 years for climate change.
I know that you have several different reports on your website where you showcase, “Listen, if you have a product-based business and you have a specific value chain of how you develop a package and send a product, you can play a huge part in integrating and tackling the SDG of climate change into your business model.”
What size companies, on average, are in the compact right now? And how do you plan to grow this number over the years to come?
At the moment, the majority of companies participating in the Global Compact are small and medium-sized enterprises, we define that by companies that have annual revenue of 50 million or less. We do have a good portion of the very, very large companies as part of the global 500 companies, we have about 65-70%.
Targeting Companies to Work on Certain Goals… Like Gender Equality
Say for example, we want to reach gender parity, 50% women in leadership positions in a segment of companies in the global compact. So what are the tools? How can we deploy these tools through our local offices, which we call the local networks to help them achieve this target.
It’s a double-edged sword, right? “Hey, we need to bring in more new companies that are going to be integrating and taking on these principles. And then also the companies that are already in the global compact… how do we better support them, provide more resources, mentorship, and whatever they need to increase the depth of the impact internal and external for their companies?
Exactly. That’s, that’s exactly the case. And you know, it comes back to the first question about how do you measure your impact? They’re very fragmented tools that exist. Like, there’s not one unified tool that tells you as a company you are in a healthcare business.
Do you think that we’re on pace to hit it or do you think we’re behind?
I think we’re behind. It’s very clear that inequalities are growing year after year. There are major violations of very basic human rights and labor rights in terms of the number of people in forced labor, in terms of child labor, et Cetera.
So I think we’re behind, however, I think that there are major, major opportunities to address these goals and they’re even quantified in economic terms to a level of 12 trillion US dollars of economic benefit for the private sector to address the goals. And I also see a lot of very encouraging and positive signs with new types of technology.
Right back at you for taking the stand that you do to empower businesses around the world to integrate these principles to better tackle these SDGs.
The 2-Fold Call to Action:
- Let’s create more businesses leveraging cutting edge technology to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.
- Get more involved with the United Nations Global Compact Academy.
It sounds like incredible research that the UNGC has available for all business owners regardless of the size of the business to be a part of the conversation and to set a new standard for how we want to play and all the different kinds of industries.