The United Nations is a key driver in the mainstreaming of sustainability through its array of organizations and initiatives. These include the Global Compact and its Ten Principles, the six Principles for Responsible Investment and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The UN has set out its plan for achieving these goals called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Global Compact encourages businesses align their sustainability strategies with its Ten Principles in order to achieve the 17 SDGs. It is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, with more than 13,00 companies of all sectors declaring their commitment annually.
The Ten Principles derive from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the UN Convention Against Corruption.
The Ten Principles
17 Sustainable Development Goals
The UN initiative that addresses sustainability beyond the corporate sector is the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or 17 SDGs. The SDGs were conceived at the UN’s Rio sustainability conference in 2012 and were intended to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which were due to expire in 2015. They were formally launched around the same time as the Paris Accord on climate change also in 2015.
The 17 SDGs are a set of universal goals that if achieved it is hoped will ameliorate today’s environmental, political and economic challenges. Each goal comprises a subset of targets, 169 overall that are measured by 230 indicators that monitor implementation.
The UN describes them as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” and the “lingua franca” for policymakers and stakeholders.”
According to a study by Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance, around 40% of the world’s largest 250 companies “acknowledge the SDGs in their corporate reporting and include the global goals in their CEO and/or Chair’s message.”
The SDGs are nonbinding for not only nation states but also corporations, hence the inclusion of goal 17 on partnership as a nudge for private sector participation.
UN 17 SDGs and some potential actions by the lubricant industry
The Principles for Responsible Investment
The PRI was launched in 2006 by the UN Environment Program Finance Initiative and the UN Global Compact to develop responsible global investment principles for the investment community.
It is a voluntary reporting framework that signatories can use to incorporate ESG issues and the Six Principles of Responsible Investment into their investment decisions. Eligible signatories must be asset owners, investment managers, service providers or professional services firms. The framework comprises a mix of universal and asset-class specific modules developed by signatories themselves.
The six principles are:
- We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.
- We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.
- We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.
- We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.
- We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.
- We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.
The 17 SDGs and Ten Principles are not without their critics. Soon after they were unveiled, William Easterly, an economist and academic at New York University, wrote that the SDGs are unactionable, unquantifiable and unattainable. Easterly said that unlike the millennium development goals that preceded them and were precise and measurable, the SDGs are “vague and utopian.” Critics of the Global Compact point out the principles are unenforced that corporations are not held accountable for noncompliance.