Businesses Can Implement Social Sustainability Through Programs
This can accomplish a variety of goals—social, environmental, or both—that are outside the company's usual business-model. These programs are often characterized as "corporate social responsibility," or they can be more specific and target the U.N.'s formal list of "sustainable development goals," but regardless, they all have the goal of contributing to the greater good, rather than just generating profit.
“Corporate social responsibility” (CSR) is the umbrella term for company actions motivated by the desire to help and give back. Simply put, these are sustainability programs that companies think up and execute as they see fit. Thus, on the one hand, CSRs don't come with clear guidance for determining the validity or true impact of the programs derived under this concept, on the other hand, the idea is obviously to accomplish good.
From initiatives that aim to reduce an organization’s carbon footprint or improve work conditions for employees, to simple goods- or financial aid-based activities, CSRs enable organizations to help in a multitude of ways. Put another way, CSRs give businesses an outlet for addressing some of the world's most pressing issues.
Some examples can be found in the largest and most profitable corporations operating today. For instance, Johnson & Johnson has a CSR program to secure 35% of their energy usage from renewable sources. In terms of social and economic justice, Spotify offers 24 weeks of parental leave, and Netflix offers up to 52 weeks. And when it comes to diversity, Starbucks has pledged to hire 25,000 veterans and 10,000 refugees by 2022.
Yet, CSRs represent a somewhat vague overall construct, and whether programs that are characterized as CSRs are in fact addressing the most urgent sustainability issues can be unclear. Thus, to bring accountability to the CSR movement, the United Nations in 2015 issued a specific list of CSR-oriented targets called "sustainable development goals" (SDGs).
These are 17 goals, including ending poverty, reducing inequality, and providing clean water and sanitation for everyone, and according to Corporate Knights, a prominent sustainable business publication, SDGs have “quickly become a common language.” In an article by Dave Klar titled “50+ Real World Examples of Private Sector SDG Leadership,” the publication says that SDGs are causing “sustainability leadership in the private sector [to evolve] from sustainability reporting to targeted responsible action.” In other words, SDGs are focusing companies on the most urgent sustainability issues.
And there are countless examples. For instance, GROSCHE, a coffee and tea producer, is working to provide clean water where it is unavailable. Similarly, Goldcorp, a gold producer, is replacing its diesel vehicles with electric vehicles that are both better for the environment and safer for its workers. There are an almost infinite number of examples of companies addressing sustainability through solar-based, wind-based, food, health and well-being, and responsible consumption SDG-based efforts.
Based on the UN’s vast reach and research, SDGs offer any company a wide range of social sustainability causes to take up. Between them and CSRs more broadly, executives seem to have all the options they need to try and make a positive impact.