EPISODE 2: Responsible business is good business

Lise Kingo on the past years and future on sustainable business

For five years Lise Kingo has led the world’s largest sustainable business initiative and the UN organization for sustainable business, UN Global Compact. Now the time has come to pass the baton to Sanda Ojiambo. Before Lise left the office in New York, we had a conversation with her about the sustainable development in business over the past years, business opportunities that contribute to reaching the SDGs and how the future of business looks like. With long experience from the business sector and the UN system, Lise Kingo is the perfect person to talk to about where we are heading and what needs to be done to reach the SDGs by 2030.

“We have all the technology, good strategies and the goals, now we need to put more investments. We need to activate 3 percent of the global GDP or 1 percent of the global private assets. It is a huge amount but there is definitely liquidity that’s out there, it is just not directed efficiently to the area of the SDGs” Lise said. Listen to the podcast to hear how businesses can work to reach the global goals.

Before Lise moved to the UN city New York she was the head of sustainability and climate for Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company that were early adopters of sustainability in their business model. As head of UN Global Compact, she has developed a bird’s glance over the global business sector represented by the 11,000 member companies in the UN Global Compact. According to Lise, sustainability is very concrete for companies:

“For companies it is very concrete: everything you do as a company has to pay off, as a long term investment at least. Clearly what I have experienced working both for Novo Nordisk and Novozymes is that taking a responsible approach – a long term approach to running a business is definitely a more profitable way of running the business, it is also great at attracting and retaining the right people to work for you and it has a very good impact of the reputation of the company as well”, said Lise.

When it comes to profit, Lise lets the numbers talk for themselves:

“I mean business people like to put numbers at everything so we actually know that companies that are part of the UN Global Compact have a double digit better credit worthiness than companies that are not; we also know that companies have a better share price and reputation. So I have to say that from a strict business perspective: responsible business is good business and I think that it is fortunately becoming more and more mainstream across the world. We are reaching tipping points in that sense and I think the SDGs are playing an important role on that part”

The 1000 dollar question is: Can we reach the SDGs by 2030? It is clear that it will take a huge effort from governments, companies, civil society and consumers, but fortunately Lise is seeing a good trend from the business sector:

“I think we see really good trends particularly on how this thinking is being picked up by major industries that have had issues in the past: the financial industry, the ocean business. I think the challenge is that we have too few companies that are really taking leadership in stating and putting into action that they want to be part of the solution and not the problem”. However she is clear on what it will take: “If we can mobilise more than 30% of an industry then we are gaining what we call a tipping point and we are creating a new normal. That’s exactly what I hope we can do within the whole ocean business, with our new ocean business principles. If a sufficient number of global, really heavy companies are adopting a set of responsible principles it becomes the new normal, it becomes what shareholders, stakeholders and the financial community is expecting from an industry and then we get the snowball rolling.”

In a time of crisis where the governments have to use a lot of money on the business sector for companies to survive it is even clearer what an important role money plays in reaching the SDGs:

“I think it is interesting if you look across the different business sectors and you think about who holds the silver bullet, which sector could really drive a tipping point across all the 17 sdgs? I would put my money on the financial sector. In looking at what kind of investments would be needed in making the global goals a reality by 2030. The estimate is that we would need between 5-7 trillion dollars every year from now until 2030. This kind of funding will have to come from the private sector.”

Download the podcast or listen to it in the player above, to learn more about the specific investments opportunities for companies, what role pension can play in reaching the SDGs and what the work on the ocean can learn from 25 climate change conferences (COP).

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