Business action on the SDGs: Why business still needs to make the big next step

globalgoalsToo many companies are trapped by the ‘curse of materiality’ and aren’t accepting the challenge of change.

When the Global Goals were agreed last September, I hailed them as setting “the new, de-facto global standard for businesses to design, measure and account for their contribution to sustainable development”.

I said they present a unique opportunity for businesses to align their programmes and purpose to the needs of society – and in so doing, grow the business, reach new customers and markets, develop new products and boost the bottom line. Since the SDGs set out the issues the world has agreed are THE global priorities, business can’t succeed in the long run unless these aims are met.

That’s why I described them as providing the gateway for any business to shift from Continue reading

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Big shift towards a new consensus

As the fallout from Brexit continues, there’s growing agreement about the causes but a lack of clarity about what comes next.

US President Theodore Roosevelt

A clear consensus is emerging around the underlying cause of the Brexit vote. It was less about the specifics of the EU or unique to the UK and more a reaction to wider trends, notably economic – open border globalisation, economic slowdown, growing inequality and mounting mistrust of most institutions including big business and now ‘experts’ too. My initial comment last month holds largely true.

John Lanchester, author of How to Speak Money, puts it well when he says “whole swathes of the UK have spent the last decades feeling that things are being taken away from them: their jobs, their sense that they are heard, their understanding of how the world worksand their place in it”. His full analysis Continue reading

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Brexit – don’t panic, start reforming

Britain’s referendum result has its roots in long-standing economic unfairness, and it will get worse unless business learns some lessonseurope-1456245_1280

The shockwaves from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union continue to reverberate around the world. Economists speculate on the implications. Politicians with elections looming in Europe and America worry what it means for them. Individual citizens in Britain – well, about half of them – ask profound questions about their country and the divisions so starkly revealed.

The sense of shock and the search for meaning is palpable. I will resist adding lots to the Continue reading

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What a waste of business resource!

Corporations spend billions eveHard-Outcomes-or-Hollow-Promises-2ry year on causes and in communities around the world. But a shocking new survey shows they actually know little about the difference it makes.

Nowadays everyone agrees that spending shareholder funds in scattergun philanthropy doesn’t make sense: it’s not good for people in need, nor for companies trying to justify and sustain a community investment (CCI) programme.

So Corporate Citizenship asked corporate responsibility and sustainability practitioners how they set objectives and whether they measure outcomes. Over 130 practitioners from around the world replied. A massive three quarters said they aspire to achieve long-term Continue reading

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The numbers speak for themselves

Where does good decision-making in business come from? Let’s look at the role of data, seek inspiration from Plato, and consider if companies are potentially wasting billions in their community investment.


The power of numbers is embedded in modern management…. The numbers speak for themselves. What’s the bottom line? If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. We use phrases like these all the time, albeit often with a heavy heart.

Comments from my colleagues in this month’s CCBriefing help us come to terms with this. Mary Ellen Smith calls for quality in KPIs, while Charlie Ashford says radical transparency is both inevitable and an opportunity for companies. I’d add my own plea for us to rediscover the power of balanced scorecards. First popularised in 1992 by Robert Kaplanand David Norton at Harvard Business School, they broaden the focus from historic profit to non-financial and forward-looking aspects. Crucially, they harness the numbers into a decision-making format. Continue reading

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The pink pound points the way

Short-termism in the boardroom doesn’t just damage investors, it hurts us all. Thankfully, the evidence – sometimes from surprising places – shows that doing the right thing does pPink pound sign transparent imageay off.

Here in London, voters are choosing a new mayor as I write. By the time you read this, we’ll know the outcome. During the campaign, the one issue all the candidates have agreed on is the lack of affordable homes – or rather the imbalance between restricted supply and escalating demand which is driving up the price of all forms of housing, whether purchased or rented.

The think-tank New Economics Foundation (where I’ve just joined the board of trustees) used the occasion of the Queen’s 90th birthday to show how the rise in UK house prices have outstripped average earnings twice over during her lifetime. There’s not much point in being 21,839% better off (yes really, in money terms) if you still can’t afford to put a roof over your head. In London, the trends are even more acute. Continue reading

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The power of purpose

Controversial taxi company, Uber, has just launched a new statement of mission to reposition the business.  They follow in the footsteps of others, but beware of the dangers.

uberTechnology is disrupting many businesses.  Enabled by smartphone apps, radical change is coming – and just one example is playing out on the streets of London, where 100,000 private hire vehicles now compete daily with the traditional black cab trade.  Behind it is Uber and its army of self-employed drivers, all part of the new sharing economy. Famously forthright, the London cabbies are still only arguing about this change in their livelihoods, unlike Paris where militant drivers took to the streets.

Uber started out in 2009 as UberCab in San Francisco, and has grown exponentially ever since.  It recently relaunched its corporate branding. Out went the classic U logo and in came flexible treatment in its different markets, built around a new statement of corporate purpose: not a taxi app any more, but all about “creating industries that serve people – Continue reading

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Sugar tax: the cost of failing to listen

The Financial Times reports that shares in AG Barr, maker of Irn Bru, closed down 2.4% following the UK government’s announcement osoda-686984_1280f a tax on sugar in soft drinks, while Britvic, producer of Robinsons squash, fell 1.3%.  Loss of shareholder value in those two companies alone – some £40m.

Compare that to the small amount typically invested in corporate responsibility programmes and the business case for listening to stakeholders and acting correctly becomes overwhelming.  Continue reading

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Managers get it. Do investors?

When owners speak, company bosses tend to listen. So why hasn’t the ethical investment movement had more impact? And now that professional investment managers NASDAQincreasingly understand the issues, will more investors follow?

Back in January the UK-based Investment Association published data showing ethical investment at an all-time high, with funds under management totalling £10.7 billion, having more than doubled in a decade. Time to crack open the champagne? Do investors finally understand that good business practices can enhance long term returns? Will corporate behaviour now improve?

Alas, no. The same data shows that so-called ethical funds are stubbornly stuck at 1.2% of the whole market, a figure that hasn’t moved in 10 years. Continue reading

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Invest or give – what’s the difference?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and ask whether loans or grants are the right approach to getting results for the community. image3

Last week, the UK social investment bank Big Society Capital published its lending numbers for 2015. The amount going in loans to UK charities and social enterprises is now ramping up fast: £68 million of the Bank’s own money, with twice as much again from co-funders, nearly £200 million in total.

Big Society Capital (BSC) has two aims: supporting finance intermediaries who serve the social investment market, and raising awareness of the whole sector. Its funds come from an arm-up-the-back grab by government on dormant bank accounts – up to £400 million, with a further £200 million directly from the UK’s big four banks over five years. Surpluses generated when loans are repaid mean BSC should become financially sustainable over the long term. Continue reading

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