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Sustainable development is good for UK business – an open letter to the Prime Minister


If you picked up a copy of The Times today, you’ll have seen a colourful full-page letter to the Prime Minister from over 80 UK businesses, calling on the Government to show its commitment to delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the UK and pledging to do their bit to support the Government’s efforts. But why is sustainable development good for the UK and why are businesses raising their voices now?

80 UK businesses have signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling on the UK Government to show its commitment to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.More than 80 UK businesses have signed a letter to the Prime Minister calling on the UK Government to show its commitment to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

You can read the letter to the Prime Minister here

It’s a crucial time for the SDGs – they came into force just over a year ago and tomorrow world leaders and global business titans meet at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, where sustainable development will be a key theme.

Many would dearly like to see the UK Government use this as an opportunity to make clear how our businesses can help deliver the SDGs, in the UK as well as overseas.

So businesses from across a wide range of sectors, from the biggest supermarkets and food companies to banks and management consultancies, are using today’s letter to tell the Government that achieving the SDGs will be good for the UK – for its people now and for future generations, as well as the environment we all depend on – and that, as forward-thinking organisations, they’re ready to work with the Government to help make this happen.

We’re all globally connected

The Sustainable Development Goals (also sometimes known as the Global Goals) set out to address some of the world’s most challenging issues, from eradicating poverty and inequality to tackling climate change and resource depletion.

Put simply, more sustainable societies put people and nature first. They include all strata of society in benefiting more equally from the economy (jobs, health, social protection), they don’t run down the resources they depend on (what we call ‘natural capital’), they don’t irreversibly pollute and they respect the natural systems they need to thrive.

One key feature of the SDGs is they’re universal. In other words, they’re not just for developing countries – all countries have agreed to deliver them.

Whether your interest is domestic development in the UK or in developing countries, this matters because we’re all increasingly connected and interdependent on each other. The UK consumes other countries’ resources, impacting their development trajectories in both positive and negative ways.

So the choices we make in the UK matter to Kenyan smallholders, who may trade us their vegetables and flowers, but may also face risks from a changing climate that we contribute to through our greenhouse gas emissions.

The businesses have also pledged to do their bit to support the Government’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development GoalsThe businesses have also pledged to do their bit to support the Government’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Businesses have to be part of the solution

Businesses are key agents of change in the UK, for better or worse. They deliver the goods and services we’ve all come to expect: coffee, chocolate, houses, offices, pensions, transport, water, energy… the list is endless.

Sadly, our prevailing business models too often plunder and pollute the world’s natural resources. This has devastating consequences for nature and for people – not just those living in far-flung parts of the world or in some distant future, but for people here in the UK right now.

And British companies have much to lose from a world of climate change, habitat destruction and social upheavals. Ultimately, business can’t thrive in a failing society.

A sustainable business recognises this and invests in being socially responsible and protecting natural capital in the long-term. This has clear business benefits, securing jobs, competitive advantage and greater stability for years to come.

Interestingly, the economic case for sustainable business is being championed by another major voice today. A new report, “Better Business Better World”, launched this morning by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC), highlights the flaws in the current global economic model and explores how the SDGs offer a compelling new growth strategy to drive better quality development at an unprecedented scale.

The report shows how pursuing sustainable and inclusive markets could create at least US$12 trillion in business value (or 10% of global GDP) and up to 380 million jobs by 2030.

Our Government, using the SDGs as a framework, can help put more businesses on this journey.

It’s time for the UK Government to commit to a plan

So in today’s open letter, UK businesses are asking the Government to develop a plan to deliver the SDGs in the UK. In practice, this requires Government leadership and acknowledgement that a number of different strategies, encompassing all departments, will help bring about a more sustainable UK.

We’ll be listening keenly to how the Government responds to this timely call to action.

Want to help?

The open letter to the Prime Minister was co-ordinated by UK Stakeholders in Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a non-profit network of businesses, NGOs and academics working to advance sustainable development and help facilitate the delivery of the SDGs in the UK. WWF-UK is a member of UKSSD and I’m Co-Chair.

We’re keen to hear from more businesses who want to join us or lend their voice to our activities. You can find out more at the UKSSD website.

UKSSD is holding its annual conference in London on Wednesday 1 March 2017 and business representatives are welcome to join us. You find more information and register to attend the conference.

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