June 14, 2019

Inspiration from Danish business leaders

By Stephen Blakeley

Last week, 600 Danish business leaders attended a summit on the United Nations Global Goals. Corporate conferences on social and environmental issues can feel trite compared to what is at stake, but this one felt different. Perhaps it was the close-knit nature of the Danish business community, or perhaps because it had been. Perhaps that it had been convened by the Danish Management Society (Dansk Selskab for Virksomhedsledelse, or VL).

VL is not a ‘sustainability’ organisation. It is a club of top executives from Denmark’s business community. Its membership includes leaders from the likes of Maersk, Carlsberg and Danske Bank. Yet, its 2019 theme was ‘The UN Global Goals – a Competitive Factor. The aim was to explore how the Global Goals could strengthen the competitiveness of Danish business.

No-one questioned the scale or urgency of the climate crisis … and no-one questioned the need for business to contribute

It was refreshing to see business leaders treating the Global Goals as a collective endeavour, one demanding a response at the highest level. There were, of course, varying levels of maturity, but no-one questioned the scale or urgency of the climate crisis or of addressing inequality; and no-one questioned the need for business to contribute to, or the potential for business to profit from, solving these challenges.

Approaching the Global Goals strategically and collaboratively is the only way to reach the scale of change needed

During the six months leading up to the summit, we worked closely with VL to help its members approach the Global Goals strategically. While some businesses still treat the Global Goals as a charitable initiative or, worse, a reporting exercise, more and more are seeking business opportunities in the Goals: whether it is clever financing to make basic goods and services available to the poorest; cross-sector collaborations to tackle corruption or boost international trade; or entire new industries emerging to tackle the climate crisis. This is crucial as it is the only way to reach the scale of change needed to achieve the Goals.

We need to learn from positive examples – not CSR initiatives or PR stunts, but core business strategies that change business and society for the better

We captured some of the best case studies in the free app (on iOS and Android) we developed for VL, funded by the Danish Industriens Fond.

Yet, there were so many inspirational examples and ideas that we decided to create a series of 17 weekly blogs, one each for the Global Goals, with the theme of Reasons to be Hopeful.

This is a clear nod to one of my favourite podcasts: Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s Reasons to be Cheerful, a determinedly positive search for policy solutions to intractable political problems. We aim to do something similar for the business world, sharing positive examples of practical action – not CSR initiatives or PR stunts, but core business strategies that are changing business and society for the better.

To achieve the Global Goals, we need business to innovate and finance solutions, increase trade and job, opportunities and improve access to goods and services – all within the resource constraints of our planet. This is a daunting task and the consequences of failure are frightening. But the VL summit, and increasing numbers of businesses turning their creative and collaborative energy towards solving these challenges, give us reasons to be hopeful.

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