The SDGs could create 380 million jobs by 2030, analysis finds

A worker at an energy plant in Jiangxi, at one of China's first distributed-energy stations. According to a new report, the SDGs will trigger the most growth in four key sectors: food and agriculture, development and infrastructure, energy and materials, and health and well-being. (Humphery/Shutterstock)

Companies not only can play an important role implementing the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but simultaneously can generate major new market opportunities, according to a new report.

Better Business, Better World, published by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, estimates that “sustainable” business initiatives could fuel up to USD 12 trillion in economic activity and create 380 million jobs by 2030.

The report, published in January by the London-based commission, urges corporate leaders to adopt economic models that are energy efficient and environmentally responsible.

Countries across the globe began implementing the SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, last year. According to the commission, that new framework will trigger the most growth in four key sectors: food and agriculture, development and infrastructure, energy and materials, and health and well-being.

Business sectors poised for rapid expansion include a broad spectrum — waste reduction, telemedicine and affordable housing, as well as car-sharing, public transit and energy storage.

[See: How do we involve the public in implementing the SDGs?]

The report aims to underscore that good corporate citizenship and profitable enterprise are not mutually exclusive.

Among the takeaways:

  • Bold thinking is required. Executives and entrepreneurs should have the “courage” to view squalor, inequality and limited access to capital as problems that demand their attention and creativity.
  • Success requires agility. Business must be ready to pivot quickly and embrace emerging technologies, such as digital platforms.
  • The time to strike is now. This is a rare chance to reshape cities on a grand scale and avoid being saddled with legacy models that will become obsolete. “We see the next 15 years as critical, with change starting now and accelerating over the period,” the report says.
  • Challenges are real. “This is new territory,” the authors caution. “Moving business to a sustainable growth model will be disruptive, with big risks as well as opportunities.”

[See: Business can be a powerful broker in shaping urbanization solutions]

Businesses, of course, cannot implement the SDGs alone. Local and national governments must be assertive about attracting corporate partners, the commission says — noting that the best way to start is by practicing responsible governance.

“The main elements are good and accountable governance, the rule of law, effective contract enforcement and legal systems, and functioning customs regimes,” the report states. City leaders and other government officials also can spur projects along by taking greater steps to provide financing.

Across the world, the private sector faces mounting pressure to demonstrate that it is responsible on everything from wages to environmental stewardship, the report says. The authors aim to shatter the perception that large companies and financial institutions are not trustworthy, or are motivated only by profit and shareholder interests.

[See: Corruption: The New Urban Agenda’s elephant in the room]

“At the core of our argument is also the need for business to regain the license to operate” on behalf of all people, write former U. N. deputy secretary-general Mark Malloch-Brown and Unilever chief executive Paul Polman, co-founders of the commission.

City growth areas

The commission separately examined the market value of the Global Goals in urban areas, issuing a focused report in November called Valuing the SDG Prize in Cities.

Sixteen niche businesses set for meteoric growth in cities could spur more than USD 3.7 trillion annually in economic activity by 2030, the report says. The majority of the opportunities would be in developing countries.

[See: New solutions to close the gap on municipal finance]

The categories range from affordable housing and electric and hybrid vehicles to resilient design and infrastructure, office-sharing and cultural tourism. Combined, they could account for 170 million jobs by 2030.

Job creation would be highest in China (49 million) and Africa (32 million), the report finds. These would be followed by the rest of developing Asia (26 million), India (22 million) and Latin America (11 million).

The commission brings together leaders from business and finance, labour groups, international bodies and elsewhere. Learn more here and here.

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David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

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