Unilever Sees Business Case in UN Development Goals

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By Andrea Vittorio

Sept. 24 — Unilever chief Paul Polman sees the United Nation's global goals for sustainable development as “an enormous opportunity for business” to get behind.

“Most businesses clearly understand that there is no business case in enduring poverty,” he said Sept. 24 in New York at a gathering of high-profile private-sector leaders known as the B Team.

They came together on the eve of the UN's adoption of its sweeping new agenda for 2030, which ranges from eradicating poverty and fighting hunger to combating climate change.

“The 6 million children that die every year of infectious diseases before the age of 5 is an enormous opportunity to sell bar soap,” said Polman, whose company is the maker of Dove and a number of other household products. “The 800 million people that go to bed hungry is a tremendous opportunity to expand your food business.”

Polman said it is important that as the UN meets Sept. 25–27 to finalize the goals, it also finds the right indicators to measure progress. Already, the 17 over-arching goals have been separated into 169 more specific targets, which will be narrowed down further into a set of measurable indicators.

“The 169 targets, if they result in 500 indicators, we’ve lost the business community,” he said. “So how can we get the right 100 indicators that really galvanize the right change that we want and make these indicators transparent to hold people accountable?”

Success in Paris 

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and a fellow B Team member, said making the sustainable development goals a success will require another “big success in Paris,” where nearly 200 nations will meet at year's end to hammer out a global deal to fight climate change.

That deal and the goals go hand-in-hand because a changing climate is likely to make achieving development gains even more difficult.

“It will be, I think, pretty dreadful if we don’t get a big success in Paris,” Branson said at the event. He rattled off a wish list of things he wants to see come out of Paris: an end to fossil fuel subsidies, a cap on coal, no more drilling for oil in the Arctic and a global price on carbon.

Branson also urged governments and businesses to work together toward coming up with “big innovations to make sure that we get to carbon zero.”

‘Business Plan' for Action 

The B Team—whose members include media mogul Arianna Huffington and former Irish president and UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson—is now calling on private-sector leaders to develop a “business plan” for embedding the global goals into their corporate strategies.

They also are forming a new global commission on business and sustainable development that will work during the next year to show why and how the private sector can play a role in sustainable development.

“It will provide a platform for business leaders around the world to take action on this agenda and for companies to have the support and the guide and the tools that they need to really understand what it means to not just look at the financial bottom line but to have the right environmental and social metrics to measure progress,” Rajiv Joshi, the B Team's managing director, told Bloomberg BNA after the event.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

More information on the B Team is available at http://bteam.org/.