How are Singaporean businesses stepping up to the challenge of the SDGs?

One-fifth of companies on the Singapore Exchange acknowledge the Sustainable Development Goals, and fewer have plans around them. Corporate Citizenship's Lawrence Ow explains why Singapore-listed firms should sit up and pay attention to the SDGs.

Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore.
Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore. Only 20 per cent of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange publicly acknowledge the SDGs. Image: Alex DROP, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Singapore was recently ranked first among 188 countries based on its performance on 37 health-related SDG indicators. That means that Singapore is the closest to meeting the SDG’s health-related targets which include goals for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and road injury mortality among others.

Singapore has also achieved four out of the 17  SDGs (SDG1SDG7SDG8 and SDG9), the highest number among 19 countries in East and South Asia (excluding OECD countries) based on the SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017.

This is a very positive story for the city-state two years into the 15-year sustainable development agenda. However, there is still work to be done on the remaining SDGs. In particular, the report by the SDG Index and Dashboards also found Singapore performing poorly on 6 SDGs (SDG10SDG12,SDG13SDG14SDG15, and SDG17). So what are businesses doing to help bridge the gap on sustainable development, and indeed bolster the areas of strength?

Corporate Citizenship’s recent report, Accelerating Corporate Leadership on the Global Goals, found that of the Top 50 companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX); only 20 per cent are publicly acknowledging the SDGs. This is compared to 51 per cent of FTSE 100 companies and 38 per cent of Fortune 50 companies.

The numbers get even lower when it comes to companies creating concrete actions or plans around the SDGs.  Only 12 per cent of the SGX 50 have integrated the SDGs into their business or CR strategy while 18 per cent mapped their business or CR strategy to the SDGs. A reason for these numbers could be due to many companies in Singapore being unsure on how to engage with the SDGs and see achieving the SDGs as the government’s duty, not seeing the business relevance.

A sustainable business opportunity

Research published by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission shows that achieving the SDGs could open up 60 market opportunities worth an estimated US$12 trillion by 2030 in business savings and revenue.

As a framework setting out the most pressing societal and development needs until 2030, the SDGs present business with a clear blueprint for where their products and services are needed in a significant way, i.e. how they can grow their businesses and create greater societal value. Now that is definitely something to be excited about and many companies are already starting to capitalise on the SDGs.

Leading by example

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a global pharmaceutical company, have established a partnership with Save the Children and developed a chlorhexidine gel to prevent umbilical cord infection in newborn babies. This collaboration both opened up new product development and new market opportunities for GSK while achieving the SDG3 target of ending preventable deaths of newborns. Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap, in addressing SDG6, aims to improve the hand-washing habits of one billion people, reducing the occurrences of child mortality and increasing sales in countries with the highest rates of diarrhoea-related child deaths.

Leading companies will be using the SDGs as an opportunity to position themselves as innovators of their respective sectors, creating economic and social value, while safeguarding the environment and our future.

In Singapore, City Developments Limited (CDL) unveiled the CDL Future Value 2030, a sustainable blueprint which includes goals and targets supporting nine of the SDGs deemed relevant to CDL. To understand what that means for the business, CDL has begun to measure and report how its sustainability efforts are driving value for the business. For example, in line with SDG9, CDL has achieved more than S$16 million in savings as a result of energy-efficient retrofitting and initiatives implemented for eight office buildings.

Understanding the business case is crucial to help more companies in Singapore adopt and integrate the SDGs into their sustainability approach. Furthermore, with all listed companies in Singapore having to report on their non-financial performance, the SDGs provides a common language and useful framework to talk about responsibilities and contribution to society. Leading companies will be using the SDGs as an opportunity to position themselves as innovators of their respective sectors, creating economic and social value, while safeguarding the environment and our future.

Lawrence Ow is Senior Researcher at Corporate Citizenship. This post is republished from the Corporate Citizenship blog

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