On 24 September, 2018, Jean-Louis Chaussade, Suez CEO, personally received the SDG Pioneers award from the UN Global Compact, the United Nations organisation dedicated to business. His company was recognised as a "leader" in this area.
Using the SDGs as a strategic roadmap
"We did not want a simple correlation between our goals and the SDGs, we wanted to use them to define specific objectives, some of which go beyond the raison d'être of the company," says Suez Director of Sustainable Development, Hélène Valade. “This has given rise to four priorities: to be a collaborative, open and responsible company, to be a leader in the circular and low carbon economy, to support the environmental transition of our customers with concrete solutions, and to contribute to the common good".
The group proceeded to identify the objectives that they believe make themselves "leaders", such as access to water, the fight against climate change, and encouraging sustainable production and consumption patterns. This gave rise to Suez's commitment to the Science Based Target initiative, which has validated its climate strategy in regard to the 2° C objective of the Paris Agreement (a 30% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030 compared to 2014).
Risks and opportunities
Apart from its core business, the group also prioritises the SDGs for which it can actively contribute, such as gender equality and biodiversity. "This allows us to consider the solutions we are implementing in a very transversal way," says Valade. In developing countries, better access to safe drinking water will allow women to free up the time spent fetching water from the well so that they may work or go to school.
There are, however, points of vigilance: the development of a seawater desalination program, designed to respond to water stress amplified by climate change, can have a negative impact on biodiversity and give rise to energy consumption. It is, therefore, necessary to orient innovation toward conciliation of the different objectives.
Risks and opportunities mapping (click here to enlarge)
"Establish the different levels of contribution to the SDGs, map the opportunities and risks involved, engage with stakeholders, especially to establish measurement indicators”: This methodology can inspire other companies, according to Anthony Ratier, Global Human Rights and SDG lead at Global Compact France.
The French government CSR Platform, which has just published an opinion regarding CSR and the SDGs, reminds the public that “companies, no matter what their size or their activity, are key players in achieving SDGs, through their methods of organisation and management and through their capacity to create products and services that meet these challenges".
A common language
Beyond strategy, the SDGs are also a tool for dialogue with the company's stakeholders. "The SDGs allow us to have a common language with them," says Valade. "We use the UN agenda to explain our roadmap to our shareholders and, together with our employees, we start with concrete actions in terms of environment to show how we contribute to this agenda".
However, Valade admits the approach is "not smooth sailing". "As with all topics of transformation, there may be resistance to doing things differently." Another difficulty, which is also highlighted by many companies, is that of measurement.
"How do we make our contribution tangible, and include the strategies of States in this area when the guidelines do not exist yet?” asks Valade. In fact, in France the group is participating in the development of a national SDG roadmap. This must especially enable companies to better appropriate the concrete targets of the objectives, which are still very much oriented towards States, and ultimately establish relevant measurement indicators.
Béatrice Héraud @beatriceheraud
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