7 Feb 2019 05:07pm

Aiming for sustainable business by 2030

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals could completely change the way we do business by 2030, and accountants have a role to play

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals could completely change the way we do business by 2030, and accountants have a role to play

Like trips to the political party conferences, one of the most enjoyable features of the World Economic Forum’s summit in Davos is the fringe meetings. Why? Because Davos attracts some of the world’s biggest movers and shakers who would otherwise never be in the same place at the same time. This gives you the chance to meet, in the margins of the main event, not only with the names we see on social media, on the TV and in the press, but also with the thinkers and actors who inform decision-making and action quietly but at the highest levels. The fringe is where much of the real business of Davos gets done.

This year, I participated in a panel session at a fringe event organised by the Green Economy Coalition, of which ICAEW is a member, and the MAVA ‘Economies for Nature program’ which includes our partners, the Natural Capital Coalition. The theme of the session was “what is wealth?” and we panellists were asked to give our vision of how the world will look in 2030 when we have an economy that measures wealth differently.

As you know, the year 2030 is significant since it is the deadline set by the UN for implementation of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also known as the Global Goals). The aim of the goals, to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity, is a monumental task, requiring transformational change throughout the world at a systemic level.

This ambition is hugely inspiring. For me, achievement of the goals defines real success. They represent a world that we want. Just drafting them involved the widest consultation the UN has ever undertaken, with around eight million people participating in the consultation, 70 countries engaged in the working parties and all 193 UN nations signing up to them. 2030 may only be 11 years away but at the rate the business environment is changing it is possible that the way we do business then will be very different. In this aspirational world, our business and private lives will be deeply influenced by the goals.

It will be a matter of course for all businesses, for example, that their success is interdependent with fair and just societies and a thriving natural environment. Collaboration will characterise how we work, not just at a personal level but across the economy. The boundary of public and private sector, as well as of market solutions and policymaking, will blur. These collaborations will be issue-driven with government, civil society, citizens and businesses coming together to resolve them.

As I say, it is aspirational. Nevertheless, over those 11 years, I believe the accountancy profession will have a huge leadership role in helping to realise the goals. And in doing so, we will be shaping our own future as a profession. We are currently experiencing a crisis of public trust, which goes to the very heart of who we are. By this I mean that the keystone of what makes us a profession, which is ensuring the truth is told and that people and organisations can be held to account, has been brought into question in recent years.

If we are to rebuild that trust, we need to go back to our roots and take up the challenge in our charter to act in the public interest. We need to speak to the issues that matter to people. What better way of proving ourselves than working to achieve the goals, which are such a compelling illustration of the public interest? At ICAEW, we have already set out our vision of a world of strong economies. This matches the vision of the goals – prosperous and resilient economies based on fair and just societies that work for everyone, delivered within what nature can afford and underpinned by peaceful, well-governed institutions and partnerships to deliver them.

In helping to ensure that the goals are achieved, we must make sure that the truth is told whether in organisation decision-making, public disclosure, policymaking or in the activism of civil society. Unless we are able to ensure that information and guidance are useful, accurate, timely and trusted, and delivered to the right place so the best decisions can be made, the goals will fall short of their ambition. If the profession and businesses can demonstrate that we are responding to the things that matter to the public and play our part in delivering the goals, then we may find that we are in a better place to reclaim the public’s trust.