What should the UN Global Goals save — your business or the world?

While everyone's going on about the UN Global Goals and their business potential, it may be wise to exercise a bit of reflection.
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The UN Global Goals are on everybody’s lips and every executive worth their salt is trying to think of ways to use them to boost their business. But in the clutter of Global Goal agendas, it’s wise to exercise a bit of reflection.

Since the UN introduced the 17 Global Goals in 2016, things have been moving fast. Real fast. Companies of all sizes have jumped on the bandwagon and have attached the goals to their businesses in the hope of boosting their bottom line – and maybe saving the world at the same time.

So, here’s a contrary thought: what if the goals are not for everyone? What if the engagement ends up like unbelievable greenwashing?
Mette Hejl CEO & Partner

At Folkemødet 2019 (an annual Danish event with several days of meetings between politicians and the people), the Global goals were the theme of the year – and a large part of the program was held at ‘Global Goals Square’. Everyone wants to join. No one wants to be left out. It’s FOMO in fifth gear. Bandwagon bananas instigated by flimsy promises of business potential reaching 400 billion DKK – and perhaps fear of seeming black when everyone else is now green.

So, here’s a contrary thought: what if the goals are not for everyone? What if the engagement ends up like unbelievable greenwashing? What if the many uncoordinated initiatives don’t matter at all – for neither the environment nor the bottom line?

Instead of an argumentative column, I’ll leave the reflection (and conclusion) to you – with the help of 11 semi-rhetorical questions:

1— Is the general eagerness to embrace the Global Goals actually just an expression of companies grasping the opportunity to build a creative platform from which to communicate?

2— What will happen to the eagerness to save the world if (read; when) the economy takes a downturn?

3— Will we then see which companies are truly dedicated – and which ones are merely opportunists?

4— What would happen if you did a ‘reverse-test’ of the goals: “We will not work for a better world”? Who would not want to join then?

5— And if the goals are impossible to disagree with, how will you ever achieve any real differentiation in your engagement?

6— How big an effect can we even expect from companies that are basically put on this earth to make profit – and not to save the world?

7— And does the eagerness collide with the altruistic starting point when the VL groups (Danish management group networks) want to make the Global Goals a competitive parameter?

8— Is there more money to be made from individual goals? And then what about the less obvious ones – as seen from a business perspective?

9— What if we introduced a smiley arrangement for companies based on their dedication to the Global Goals?

10— And what would happen if we changed the goals to become a pact for companies with more than a thousand employees and +100 million DKK revenue? How fast would we then go from talking and good intentions to crossing the finish line?

11— How fast would the idea of the triple bottom line then end up as the only bottom line?

The UN is calling the Global Goals the ‘most important plan’. Nothing less. But a plan is nothing more than an approach if it’s not coordinated – especially, if it doesn’t comply with the Global Goals. At Folkemødet, for example, 100,000 people were transported to the island of Bornholm – many using one of the 14 flights a day – and once there they kept the chatter going with beer served in plastic cups.

So, I really hope that the companies (especially in a small country like Denmark) can unite in a coordinated effort. One that creates real results, rather than just being an approach for talking, self-promotion, and good intentions.