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Get on the pathway to sustainability now, advises business leader

Steve Kenzie, executive director of the UN Global Compact Network UK, spoke during Canadore College’s first Sustainability Summit
Measures that make a business more sustainable include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste, but also includes introducing a living wage for workers and eliminating the gender pay gap.

Steve Kenzie pulls no punches when he talks about sustainability, particularly when it comes to business.

As the executive director of the UN Global Compact Network UK, Kenzie firmly believes in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations and adopted unanimously by member countries in 2015.

They suggest ways of development that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.

But our current rate of change is dismal.

“We’re not on track at the moment to meet the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Kenzie, who spoke via video stream from his London, UK, office during Canadore College’s inaugural Sustainability Summit, held May 31 to June 1 in North Bay and online.

“We might as well be honest about that.”

According to available data, it would take 267 years to close the economic gender gap; there are still 8 million tons of plastic entering our oceans annually; nearly one in 10 children around the world are subject to child labour; and global warming is predicted to reach over three degrees by the year 2100.

If we want to reverse those trends, business needs to get on board, and get on board now.

But ‘sustainability’ doesn’t have to be a dirty word for business leaders. Kenzie believes businesses can not just survive, but thrive, if they choose to build sustainability measures into their operations.

“I am convinced… the best way to achieve long-term profitability in your business is to make your money from solving the world’s problems, not by making them worse,” he said.

“People are becoming ever more aware of these issues and expecting those responsible for creating the situation to be held to account.”

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A 2015 report from the Business and Sustainable Development Commission suggests that adopting sustainability measures could generate $12 trillion in new business value by 2030.

To get there, businesses will have to invest in new products, services, and infrastructure, Kenzie said, but the payoff will be worth it in a better educated and more productive workforce, economy and political stability, fair and just societies, and climate resilience.

They’re all “good for business,” Kenzie said.

Being more sustainable makes an organization more appealing to investors, and can help it attract the “best and brightest” talent to its workforce, he added.

“It’s really important to be able to demonstrate that you’re a good corporate citizen, and the SDGs can provide you with a helpful framework for understanding what it means to be a good corporate citizen,” Kenzie said.

To date, more than 16,000 companies and 3,500 non-business organizations around the world have signed on to the UN Global Compact as a commitment to sustainability measures, he noted.

That includes at least two companies in Northern Ontario: Voyageur Aviation in North Bay is a member, as is the Mansour Group in Sudbury.

The Compact lays out a series of targets that give businesses an idea of how to become more sustainable.

It might mean offering all employees a living wage, which reduces turnover and makes you an employer of choice, Kenzie said. Or it could mean reducing your company’s carbon footprint by switching to renewable energy and investing in electric vehicles.

Not every measure will be a fit for every business, but it’s a place to start, Kenzie said.

With many organizations aiming to reach these targets by 2030, time is ticking, and businesses don’t want to be left behind.

“There are strong expectations in the community that you be sustainable, and those expectations are just going to get stronger and stronger by 2030,” Kenzie said.

“It’s better that you don’t wait until 2029 to start getting onto these pathways. You need to get on the pathway now.”