The world might have been a better place to live if we all could join forces and work towards the betterment of the society, and make it more habitable for the generations to come. The concept of sustainable development isn’t much different from the aforesaid thought and it has been the center of many crucial discussions that have taken place in the last couple of years.
United Nations (UN), the intergovernmental organization that promotes international cooperation and creates and maintains international order, has described sustainable development as the growth that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
At the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (2012), the idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were first conceived with the intention of producing a set of universally applicable goals that proficiently balances the three pillars sustainable development: economic, environmental and social.
On 25 September 2015, leaders from around the globe (193 countries) gathered at the United Nations headquarters in the United States to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda identified 17 goals to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice and combat climate change by the year 2030.
India has also aligned its national development agenda with the SDGs while the foremost objective remains eradication of poverty from the country. However, it seems quite difficult to achieve those goals (both nationally and worldwide) depending solely on the government initiatives. To eradicate poverty or to attain other goals mentioned in the agenda a high level of cooperation is required among the government entities, private sectors and the civil society.
What are the sustainable development goals?
The sustainable development goals set by the United Nations focus on mobilizing efforts worldwide to put an end to social evils such as poverty and create a world where everyone can live and prosper seamlessly. A total of 17 SDGs were adopted in 2015 which aim at 169 targets that are set to be achieved by 2030. The goals cover all the major areas including economic, environmental and social concerns, striving towards a holistic development of the society and the planet.
These SDGs have replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted in 2000 by the UN. It also had a 15-year agenda to combat poverty and other significant issues. MDGs achieved a certain level of success in its course of 15 years. They drove some impressive progress in crucial areas like:
Even though MDGs did a decent job in achieving certain objectives, some aspects of holistic development were still undone. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aim to fulfill all purposes that MDGs couldn’t attain and make an effort to shift the world into a more sustainable path by updating or introducing more approachable and more focused plan of actions.
The latest development agenda (SDGs) applies to every country in the world, where it can promote peaceful and inclusive societies, create quality job opportunities for everyone and combat the present environmental challenges – especially climate change. During the time 2001-2015, the MDGs have shown the value of a unifying agenda underlined by a set of goals and targets.
Recent Developments in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
The SDGs requires participation from every sector to work towards the common goal of sustainable development and eliminate larger problems like poverty, climate change etc. During the MDG operations, the participation of private sector was irregular and limited. On the contrary, SDGs offer plenty of opportunities for the private sector to take part in the mission of sustainable development.
The term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a broad concept. It allows the employees of a particular organization to contribute towards the society, environment, country and much more. While making a useful contribution to the society, it also helps the employees create a positive word of mouth for the organization which eventually helps the organization improve their brand image.
Interestingly, India is one of the first few nations to roll out a regulation on the matter of CSR. The Corporate Social Responsibility under the Companies Act was introduced via Section 135 in 2013, and it functions as a mechanism to address various developmental challenges. The Act dictates all the companies with a net worth Rs 500 crore or more, a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or more or a net profit of Rs. 5 crore or more in a given fiscal year, then they need to spend 2% of their net profit from the past three years in CSR activities that are mentioned in Schedule VII.
As the Act mandates, a board-level committee supervises the CSR of a company. And this particular regulation has helped a number of organizations shape CSR discussions as a strategic response rather than just engaging in philanthropic activities. In fact, the CSR trends of the top 100 NSE listed organizations show that there has been an increase in the initiatives that align with the national priorities. Not to forget, the NGOs and the other social entities have shown significant interest in CSR projects.
Aligning CSR to SDGs Challenges & Opportunities:
Since the Indian CSR regulation and the SDGs were introduced almost around the same time, one may find a number of similarities in the activities that are required to achieve either of these two. Both of them have the potential to create an organized sustainable growth model, and as a matter of fact, SDGs and CSR thematic development areas overlap each other on various aspects.
The SDGs clearly seeks the cooperation from the business to engage them in applying their creativity and innovation to solve various challenges that create roadblocks for the holistic development. The supervision provided in the form of Schedule VII of the Act also offers the opportunity for collaboration as in SDG.
The companies have some positive interest towards implementing CSR projects to attain sustainable development for the society as this provided them with the opportunity to improve their brand image. In fact, the records show that there has been an increase in CSR expenditure of 14 percent in 2016-2017 than the previous year (2014-15). A lot of businesses are focusing on investing into unique flagship projects while a lot of them are willing to invest in finding various innovative ways of combating various challenges preventing sustainable development.
In the past three years, a good amount of CSR funds have been invested in the sectors like healthcare, education and rural development. Since the SDGs have a more elaborate plan for achieving the objective of sustainable development agenda and have also set out a wider range of targets to be achieved, it is a better idea for the businesses to align their CSR activities to multiple SDGs like reducing inequality, ending poverty and building resilient infrastructure as it will be more effective contribution to a larger cause.
The business community is slowly learning that they need to strategize towards achieving the SDGs using the CSR activities as a means of shared growth. In fact, a huge amount of CSR funds are being invested in innovation in CSR activities that are helping us to inch closer towards the SDGs.
Although the government and the private sectors are making positive efforts towards fulfilling the agenda of sustainable growth in the country parallel to the rest of the world, there are multiple challenges that create roadblocks for the implementation of various innovations. India is a diverse country, and there are some shortcomings that prevent the government and other entities from achieving SDGs on a local level.
The government has introduced several schemes in compliance with the SDGs, but they haven’t been much fruitful. As a matter of fact, India stands at 116 among 157 on the SDGs index which clearly indicates that a lot of work is due. However, the businesses are making some positive impact on the society by acting as a catalyst in the SDG implementation. They are quite fast at responding to certain challenges and implementing solutions with localized innovation.
To attain the agenda of sustainable growth, it is crucial to revive the partnership between key stakeholders. The stakeholders may be able to create a roadmap for the SDGs, but a collaborative effort from the government, private sector and the civil societies can make the journey a whole lot easier. Sustainable development is attainable through innovations and perseverance, and it is impossible to achieve at a massive level without everyone’s cooperation.