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Social Innovation

Measuring and managing progress against the SDGs

Responsibility for people and planet is in our hands

The future is shaped by the actions we take now. It’s more important than ever for businesses to find ways to measure their impact in and on the world.

It's easier than ever to make big public statements about our goals and intentions – social media and industry news is awash with talk about ambition and action to solve global challenges - but assessing the success, and ongoing impact, of our plans can be much more complex.

The old adage says, ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’, yet the days when success could merely be accounted for in terms of financial gains are long gone. Now it’s incumbent upon businesses to check the impact they have in delivering social and environmental value as well.

In seeking to establish a more sustainable model of business, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a good baseline. Since 2015, there have been 17 globally-agreed goals, focused on ending poverty and other deprivations, hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve oceans and forests.

In Tokyo, a Hitachi team is developing an impact visualisation model to help its business units consider the SDGs in decision-making based around the three value pillars – social, environmental and economic. The benefit of the model is that it can be applied in a way that doesn’t just look at what has happened but considers what might occur.

It’s more complex than it might initially seem, as the social and environmental impacts of projects vary by place and context. Therefore, Hitachi has taken an open approach to developing the model and it was the focus at its recent European Stakeholder Dialogue in Brussels. The insights and feedback from this cross sector audience will feed into the further development, and as the model develops, multiple business units within Hitachi will be able to assess effectively their social and environmental effect alongside their economic impact.

It’s standard for businesses to set goals and be held accountable by their stakeholders, but the uniqueness of the SDG’s is their relevance to every part of society. This year marks 5 years of the SDG journey and as the pressure to show impact against the SDGs increases, governments are also increasingly using the SDGs as benchmarking standards. As an example, the new European Commission has begun integrating them into policy-making, setting and ranking their priorities against these standards, and establishing a taskforce on non-financial disclosure, for example carbon reporting.

Knowledge is power, and being able to see demonstrable progress as well as gaining real insights into what organisations and governments around the world are achieving will help to make better decisions for the future. That’s not just good for business; it’s good for the world, the greatest goal of all.