The subjects of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability have gained substantial interest and prominence globally in the business and policy landscape over the last few decades. As job creators, purveyors of products and services, and the largest collective investor in the world, business contributes significantly to economic development. And when it strives for quality employment, creates products, and services that meet the needs and improve the circumstances of the world’s vulnerable, and invests capital mindfully to benefit communities and the environment, business can become a prominent contributor to more sustainable development.
New Horizons for Sustainability in Business
While CSR and sustainability continue to mean different things to different organizations – and there is no consensus on their definitions – broadly speaking, CSR and sustainability are seen to be spanning across economic, social, and environmental dimensions in business operations, society, and the economy. The terms CSR and sustainability are dynamic and evolving, and generally shaped by different expectations of stakeholders in different economic, social, cultural, political and policy contexts, and therefore, differ from country to country. These differences have resulted in a range of activities considered as CSR and sustainability, resulting in both being rather fragmented domains. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a holistic worldview for business to streamline their efforts in sustainability. The first question, however is – ‘Why are SDGs and strategic partnership essential for business?’
Broad by design, the SDGs offer a framework for impact across sectors; forming a critical platform for collaboration. Aligning a business’ sustainability strategy with the SDGs, and using the SDGs to increase its sustainability ambition levels will create opportunities for partnerships to help reach its goals and achieve greater impact in the process. More specifically, governments, multilateral institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and companies will pour investment into initiatives supporting the SDGs. This funding will affect supply chains and markets and increase access to energy, technology, and products, such as health and financial services. Participating in this process will create business opportunities related to sustainability strategies, consumer engagement, market expansion, and beyond.
From management of diverse set of stakeholders to socially responsible investments to supply chain integrity to climate change, all are considered part of CSR and sustainability. In policy and academics, role of both governments and businesses in shaping CSR and sustainability landscapes have been debated and deliberated upon. Of late, the regulatory landscape related to business responsibilities in both the developed world and the emerging economies is undergoing a transition and is an interesting arena for business and policy dialogue, engagement, and research.
The ‘best method is to build a business’ SDG strategy and align it with its core business practice/s and challenges to anticipate.’ This may be ideal when integrated this with a business’ current sustainability strategy. To start, a business may conduct a benchmarking study against the SDGs to understand how it is already contributing to the Goals. In this process, it can also identify specific goals where it may be leading, and those that may require more attention or investment. Another key question to examine is where partnerships – with companies in its sector or other sectors, governments, civil society, and more – may help it contribute to the SDGs more effectively and reach its sustainability goals more efficiently.
A Call for Sustainable Collaborations
Working closely with industry, policymakers, civil society and academia, CAF India engages with stakeholders across the board on the subjects of CSR, sustainability, and responsible business. Our analysis, following the CSR Mandate legislated in India vide Section 135 in Company’s Act 2013, states that the focus largely has been on the procedural aspects of the law and the CSR spend of mandated 2% of the profits. Aligning business’ goals and achievements with an inclusive process like the SDGs can enhance the credibility of its sustainability goals and help ensure that you it is having the greatest impact possible. Hence CAF India has initiated a critical strategic collaborative process in the form of SDGs Drivers Forum wherein we have formed a dedicated action group of private sector stakeholders wherein the essential drivers (Sustainability/CSR personnel) aim to align their responsible activities with the diverse targets of SDGs.
With the expanding horizons of CSR and sustainability, the need for collaboration is greater than ever, the onus of proceeding to move beyond business as usual to sustainable outlook rests now on both private sector and civil society organizations. The outlook entails an inclusive, objective and continuous dialogue process between from industry and civil society, so as to transform decision-makers to real time changemakers, and visionaries to form a formidable force to leverage the global development agenda.
By Rohan Jain
Manager Planning & Knowledge – CAF India