Next week Stockholm+50 is taking place. +50 because it is 50 years since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment and the first world conference to address the environment as a world issue.
Considering we urgently need to transform our economies and societies, the event and anniversary are timely. It gives people the chance to reflect on progress or not! And it is hoped that the event will be the springboard needed to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Titled 'a healthy planet for the prosperity of all - our responsibility, our opportunity,' a brief analysis of the achievements and challenges since Stockholm is neatly summed up in a quote from Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals,
"Every environmental issue and the complex relationship of those issues to economic and social development were all captured in Stockholm. And yet, here we find ourselves 50 years later, with all the scientific data on climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution at levels that couldn't have been foreseen in 1972."
With deepening inequalities and a triple planetary crisis (climate, nature and pollution), it is hard for SMEs to understand their role in fixing the global problem, never mind what they can sensibly do to help within their own business.
Thankfully the first step is in place - awareness. Nevermore so than since COVID 19 has the general public been so aware of the unsustainable way we as humans have plundered the earth's resources causing untold ecological damage and hurting our way of life in the process.
Now people clearly understand that the planetary changes are undermining hard-won development gains. Causing economic loss and increased poverty and hunger - while also adversely affecting the ability of countries to pursue sustainable development objectives such as sustainable industrialisation, food production and productive and decent employment.
How can SMEs participate in sustainable development?
Resetting our relationship with nature is paramount and is something we can do today as individuals and as SMEs - leaders and employees.
Simply recognising the interdependencies between humans and nature will make us think twice about our decisions. Do we need to build, or can we repurpose an existing structure? Can we turn that piece of wasteland into a community vegetable garden? Do we really need to travel for this business meeting? Is there a better financing option?
Inflation, spiralling costs and an uncertain economy are adding fuel to the fire, with many SMEs turning inwards and worrying about the survival of their own business, never mind the planet.
However, building resilience is critical, and that is true for an individual business as well as the planet. To address the triple planetary crisis synergistically, SMEs need to be part of the process of transforming and greening the economic, trade and financial systems.
Focus on what you can do today
Centuries of resource-intensive and unsustainable production and consumption patterns worldwide have given rise to today's highly unequal and inequitable global economy. By focusing on procurement and supply chains and understanding the origins of raw materials and manufactured products, SMEs can make a real difference in the acceleration of sustainable consumption and production, which has a positive impact on reducing inequalities from those vulnerable to pollution to human rights abuses.
Advancements in science, data, and connectivity mean change is happening but not fast enough. Through digital transformation, designing out waste and thinking about the product's end of life, SMEs can feed into the circular economy and transform their business into a sustainable model.
Promoting a sustainable and inclusive recovery post-pandemic is vital. SMEs can be part of this by innovating products and services to tackle global challenges and scaling up green job creation. Governments need to support the process with the right policies, but SMEs can lead the charge, demand the change and make themselves heard.
Making up 95% of businesses and employing over 50% of the workforce, SMEs collectively are a force for good; they need to come together and be bold in their quest for change.
Knowing where to start on your sustainability journey can be a challenge in this decade of action. We firmly believe that businesses of all sizes can Be Bold, Be Heard and Be the Change.
To learn more about what SDG Changemakers do and how we support organisations to look at their business operations and implement sustainable activities, get in touch with Claire Benson or Felicity Jones.