Business sector needs more support from Government to hit sustainability goals - Concern

Government should seek updates on actions by sector to progress SDGs, report suggests

The Government needs to take more meaningful action in engaging with the business sector and helping it play its part in delivering the 2030 UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), according to Concern Worldwide.

In a report issued on Monday following extensive consultation, Concern said business leaders recognise the importance of progressing SDGs “but sustainability action often falls down the priority list in times of crisis”.

While demand from shareholders and employees were key drivers of action on sustainability, “stronger Government policy was needed to both incentivise action and penalise inaction to level the playing field for businesses”.

This echoes KPMG’s annual enterprise barometer, which found seven-in-10 Irish businesses actively pursue sustainability measures with 83 per cent supporting the need for more action on climate change. However, three-quarters say none of their stakeholders are pressing the issue – while more than half worry that green initiatives will lead to increased costs.

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It coincides with the introduction of legislation to strengthen rules around “greenwashing” and sustainability claims, requiring improved transparency and more extensive, independently-audited data on sustainability.

The new regime will mean Irish companies and public entities face mounting risks of legal challenges for greenwashing, US environmental lawyer Maren Salaheldin warned.

Concern, supported by Irish Aid, engaged with the Irish business community on scaling up action on SDGs through eight workshops with 130 participants from 60 companies or organisations, spanning 20 sectors.

“Ireland’s business community has a huge role to play, in helping the country achieve the SDGs, driving positive change both within and beyond the workplace,” the report says.

There is an appetite for change but much needs to be done, within the private sector and at Government level to create viable, sustainable pathways for businesses, said Concern chief executive David Regan.

Concern was already dealing with failure globally to deliver on the SDGs, Mr Regan said.

“Concern provides relief and assistance to the most vulnerable in the world; those least able to respond to the damage our environmental and social behaviours currently wreak,” Mr Regan explained.

“We witness the desperation of the very poor farmers in the Sahel where rains are continually falling and those at the foot of the Himalayas whose lands are being lost through floods and sea levels rising.”

The Government should deepen awareness of SDGs, particularly among small and medium enterprises which need information and support, the report recommends.

It further suggests that new perspectives should be brought to the SDG national stakeholder forums, ensuring representation of those working specifically in sustainability roles and entrepreneurs who have put sustainability at the heart of their business.

“The forums must go beyond broad dialogue to focused action, setting targets and developing roadmaps for industry sectors,” it says.

“Business representative bodies must drive ambition, commitment and accountability. The Government should seek updates on their actions to progress the SDGs and challenge them to show that their policies, and policies they lobby for, align with the SDGs.”

It also calls for sectoral tool kits and frameworks for action: “The Government must help business leaders understand the global impacts of the SDGs by providing opportunities for them to gain insights into climate impacts and sustainability challenges through partnerships with international NGOs and Irish Aid-funded projects.”

Concern’s head of active citizenship, Michael Doorly, commented: “Without partnership there is no chance of the SDGs being delivered because no one sector can deliver these goals alone.

“Governments must provide the leadership and commitment. Individuals, communities, civil society organisations and NGOs lack the means.

“Businesses and corporations, despite power, wealth and influence, still need enabling policy and regulatory environments. But together – Government, businesses and civil society – are the only way the SDGs will be achieved.”

Ireland was instrumental in developing the goals, but a national review in 2018 showed it was lagging behind on implementation in many areas.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times