In Today’s World, Companies Must Offer Solutions, Not Just Self-Improvement

09/22/2017 09:06 am ET Updated Sep 22, 2017

This week, world, business, government, and NGO leaders have been gathering at the United Nations in New York as they do each year to share common challenges, unveil concerns and hopefully, forge new bonds and firm up solutions to some of our biggest shared global issues.

For all of us, this is a unique moment in time, rife with unprecedented challenges and opportunities. It is also a time where global organizations like the UN are welcoming business to the table, creating a space for the private sector to come together with NGOs, governments, and civil society leaders to help us channel and leverage one another’s strengths - so that we may tackle things we couldn’t possibly tackle alone.

When I study the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I marvel at, not how unique they are, rather how uniquely they were created and envisioned; with the role of business in mind. Past global agendas were not so quick to recognize the role of the private sector, looking at it as an obstacle to development, rather than an ally. This is a critical milestone that should be celebrated.

And it seems that companies everywhere are celebrating by stepping up, including a critical mass here in North America. To date, more than 2,300 companies, investors, cities, states, and academic institutions have signaled their continued support for U.S. climate action by signing onto the We Are Still In statement. These signatories combined, according to Ceres, represent more than 130 million Americans from all 50 states, and collectively account for more than $6 trillion of the American economy. No small gesture, to be sure.

In the same vein, earlier this week, it was announced that more than 300 companies around the world have committed to set targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions based on sound climate science.

And while global direction and shared ambition is important, local action is where real change will happen. In its recent Feeding Ourselves Thirsty report, Ceres found that the food sector's management of water risks improved by 10 percent in just the past two years. At Nestlé, which took its place in the top spot among the Packaged Food Category, we’ve long recognized that the health and well-being of the environment, communities and economic prosperity relies on the health and well-being of our shared water resources.

While I could go on and on, I won’t. Instead, I would like to highlight that businesses are building on the keystone of sustainability. Effectively, there has been a shift in the way they view their role in society, and have embraced the transformative power of collective action toward a common purpose.

But, let me close with this: we must not look at these examples and think for a minute that we have arrived. As a society, we are facing real problems in need of real solutions, many of which can only be achieved with the involvement of the private sector. In that sense, corporate sustainability should not be treated simply as an exercise we take on for its own sake, but rather as a deliberate drive toward real and tangible solutions.

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