The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The 17 Goals are all interconnected, and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve them all by 2030.https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
Is supporting health and wellbeing solely the preserve of companies in the healthcare industry? Goal 3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is a complex and detailed one that highlights how far developing countries have come, but also how far they still have to travel to catch up to developed country data on health and wellbeing outcomes.
Increasing life expectancy and reducing infant mortality includes a target of fewer than 70 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.
Improving the financing of healthcare systems, boosting economic growth so that countries can afford better healthcare, increasing the number of medical professionals available in developing countries and improving sanitation and hygiene are all ways to improve global health and wellbeing outcomes.
The maternal mortality ratio is still 14 times higher in developing countries, which is a shocking statistic. The specific goals here highlight the enormous gap in health outcomes between developed and developing countries and the importance of taking action to reduce these gaps.
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
3.1 By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
3.2 By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under five years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.
3.3 By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other infectious diseases.
3.4 By 2030, reduce by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.
3.5 Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.
3.6 By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.
3.7 By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.
3.8 Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
3.9 By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.
3. A Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate.
3.B Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and noncommunicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, following the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/health/
3.C Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in the least developed countries and small island developing States.
3.D Strengthen the capacity of all nations, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.
Board And Senior Leader Considerations
The specificity of the goals above might make you wonder how your firm can make a positive impact on these goals. What is the business case for a healthcare company giving away services for free, for example? That would be an incorrect take on the situation.
The business case for using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to understand how your operating model supports or hinders the achievement of the goals is compelling – enterprise value decreases through actions or activities that harm society.
In the current low-interest-rate environment, the discount rate to be used when assessing projects has fallen for many organisations. Higher spending on investment projects to deliver sustainability initiatives can make sense if the payoff to the firm is ongoing and has a long time horizon.
Lower cost financing of these projects is possible through the use of sustainable finance strategies such as the issue of green bonds. Alternatively, borrowing from a bank that focuses on supporting businesses wanting to invest in improving the sustainability of their operating model.
When it comes to reporting on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, an example of how an infrastructure firm that owns toll roads could make an impact on goal 3.6 – reducing global deaths and injuries from road traffic incidents – would be to highlight investments in safety on the toll roads they operate.
What is their safety goal? Zero harm on their toll roads? If so, thinking about how to centre their operation around zero damage to their staff, their road users and other stakeholders could lead to innovations in their operating model and capabilities they have around safety.
Infrastructure funds could use the health and wellbeing goals as part of their operational due diligence on prospective investments – at the business-as-usual level of a target company, are they helping or hindering the achievement of these goals?
The additional sunlight on some companies will highlight how their operations either do not help society outside of the shareholders who earn a return on their capital. These processes may lead to divestment or even shutdown of business units or operations that do not meet new community expectations around social performance.
Every business should at least consider thinking through the totality of the UN Sustainable Development goals and then focusing on those it can impact the most. The board should deliberate on whether the company’s purpose, strategy, and operating model are sufficient to maintain a social license to operate with ever-increasing expectations on the private sector.
The initial assessment of a business to identify its current operating model and how it either helps or hinders each of the 17 goals is a process achieved through workshops and interviews with the board and senior leaders.
The report prepared for senior leaders should drive further examination of the strategy and the portfolio of initiatives underway to realise that strategy help or hinder each of the 17 goals. This way, reporting in the management reports and annual reports can include these factors to be monitored by the board.
A business may find that considering a positive global social impact means that significant changes to parts of its operating model are required. Engaging with external support through this process, including setting up appropriate gateways and monitoring of portfolio, programme and project activity and outputs that take sustainability outcomes as crucial success criteria are essential.
In this series of posts, as I work through each of the UN Sustainable Development goals, it is clear that the ability of a business to positively impact the achievement of these goals is in one of the 2nd level goals or through considering an alternative way of supporting the achievement of the outcome through clever use of scarce resources.
Focusing on the outcomes desired and creatively exploring ways to support them if applicable to your business or industry gives boards and senior leaders freedom to act boldly in a manner increasingly expected by stakeholders and an increasing proportion of shareholders, particularly institutional investors for whom ESG considerations are now standard due diligence for new or continued investment in any asset class.