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Pandemic Raises Stakes for Success of the SDGs – with Private Sector Crucial


Pandemic Raises Stakes for Success of the SDGs – with Private Sector Crucial

In this Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we hear much about how organizations, countries and individuals are stepping up their efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Despite this, the reality is that the pace of action has not been quick enough and we are already far behind on delivering the Global Goals.

The countless tragic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic bring an added layer of urgency. Yet, true to human nature, the focus has already shifted to how as a global community we can forge a new way ahead – with the ‘build back better’ mantra being highly relevant from the perspective of progress on the SDGs.

Against this backdrop and with Global Goals Week underway, GRI has analyzed the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented by countries at this year’s UN High-level Political Forum. Every year since 2016, GRI has reviewed how member states are involving the private sector in the implementation of the SDGs, in particular, to assess progress on SDG 12.6to encourages companies to adopt sustainable practices and integrate sustainability reporting. With each year seeing a different set of countries submit their VNRs, the analysis varies in terms of the sample of political systems, economies, and geographical representation, providing insights over time to global trends.


Mixed messages on private sector engagement

In total, 42 countries carried out VNRs in 2021. Countries with informal, less regulated economies tended to find that they were facing challenges with tracking SDG progress, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Overall, 86% of the analyzed reports recognized the need for private sector investment, which is more than double the level reached in 2020, perhaps triggered by COVID-19, and 85% refer to the contributions of the private sector to the SDGs. Yet less encouragingly, the number of countries consulting the private sector as part of the VNR has fallen to the lowest level since 2016, at 76% (down from 87% in last year).

There are though positive signs of governments and the private sector collaborating more for the SDGs, with 83% referencing public-private partnerships (compared to 54% in 2020). This aligns well with the building back together notion, something GRI discussed at length during our HLPF event – The key role of innovative partnerships and transparency for the SDGs – which we co-hosted with Enel and UNDP Business Call to Action.

Improving alignment of SDG priorities

What our findings show is that there is a clear understanding of the important role the private sector plays in achieving the 2030 Agenda. However, it is not enough that only three-in-four countries engage the private sector in the VNR process. If we are to deliver on the SDGs, we need open collaboration that gets all parties on board – from analyzing the issues, to defining the solutions, to implementation and reporting on the progress.

Government and business interests are naturally not always fully aligned. The role of the private sector for SDG 4 – Quality Education, SDG 5 – Gender Equality and SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, was most often mentioned in VNRs. Yet, as revealed in the 2020 KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting, the most prioritized SDGs by the private sector are SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 13 – Climate Action and SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption & Production. What this indicates is that there can be a disconnect between SDGs priorities and ownership, illustrating how important it is for all stakeholders to engage and align, in order to achieve impact and progress.

Examples to learn from

We see a number of innovative digital initiatives in this space, as identified through the VNRs, that can serve as inspiration for others. For example, the success of the SDG Corporate Tracker in Colombia, a platform now used by 480 businesses in the country that is standardizing SDG-related data collection on the role of the private sector. The Initiative 2030 platform, meanwhile, which is aligned with the GRI Standards, makes it easier for companies to assess how they are contributing to the SDGs, driving SDGs participation within Cypriot society through the involvement of all stakeholders.

Simultaneously, the analysis found new or increased regulations for disclosure of non-financial information – as adopted in Indonesia and Sweden, as well as stock exchanges in Malaysia, Thailand, and Zimbabwe – which is driving an increase in private sector sustainability reporting.

Emerging significance of tax transparency

As a new element of the analysis, in 2021 we saw 29% of VNRs reference corporate taxation and tax reporting. Strong and effective tax systems are necessary to generate the resources needed to meet the SDGs and promote inclusive economic growth yet, as discussed in the opening episode of our new podcast series SDGs: The Rising Tide, it remains a significant challenge.

A fair taxation system is key to achieving the 2030 agenda, and we look forward to tracking the progress on how this will be reflected in VNRs in the coming years. GRI 207: Tax 2019 – the first and only global standard for comprehensive tax reporting at the country-by-country level – will play an important role in facilitating the regional and global conversations on fair tax policies. After all, ensuring finance for sustainable development is a cornerstone for fulfilling the SDGs.

Stepping up the momentum

Through the 2030 Agenda, world leaders have called on businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges. Yet we also need businesses to be transparent in how they maximize their positive impact on the SDGs. That is why governments must ensure they are bringing companies, and other stakeholders, into the operations room when it comes to developing and implementing their SDGs plans as well as reviewing progress.

Looking ahead, GRI will follow with keen interest the role played by the COVID-19 response in the next VNRs. Will recognition of sustainability challenges see the number of reports by countries – and engagement of the private sector – increase? And will we, years from now, be able to say that the pandemic instigated greater action and collaboration in support of the SDGs? On both these counts, there are opportunities within the adversity that can and must be seized.

When you view the SDGs as the roadmap to a better world – one without poverty or hunger, with gender equality achieved, fair economic growth and the environment protected – participation in their success should not be a hard sell for anyone, be it governments, business or citizens alike. Inclusion and partnerships, at all levels, will be the key to their successful fulfillment. Let’s stay positive that together we can reach that sustainable future.



Tina Nybo Jensen is International Policy Manager at GRI. She leads on the development, management and implementation of GRI’s Sustainable Development Program, with a special focus on the SDGs and engagement with multilateral organizations. She joined GRI in 2014 and has previously worked with the GRI Community, report services and governance relations.

Prior to GRI, Tina worked for the Danish Red Cross Youth in Jordan and the Westbank, and at the Danish Embassy in Thailand. She holds Master’s Degrees in Development & International Relations (Aalborg University, Denmark), and Political Science with Specialisation in Environmental Governance & International Relations (Vrije University Amsterdam, the Netherlands).


Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the independent, international organization that helps businesses and other organizations take responsibility for their impacts, by providing the global common language to report those impacts. The GRI Standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process and provided as a free public good.


How Sustainable Practices Can Bolster the Global Economy

Consumer demand for sustainable products is at an all-time high, likely due to a growing understanding of how consumption and energy use can impact the environment. In response, businesses are prioritizing sustainable practices and committing to goals to reduce consumption of resources, production of carbon emissions and generation of waste products.

While discussions of sustainability often center on the cost of sustainable practices, they could also be a major driver of growth for markets around the world. This is how eco-friendly practices could bolster the global economy as sustainability becomes a top business priority over the next few years.

Low-Waste Manufacturing and Safeguarding Raw Materials

Often, a key benefit of new sustainable technologies is their ability to reduce waste. They help manufacturers do more with less, reduce costs and ensure the availability of resources in the future.

For example, additive technologies, like 3D printing, are generating interest partly because they produce very little waste compared to conventional manufacturing. The process of adding material to a base via printing, rather than cutting it away to create the desired shape, makes it easier to minimize the by-product a project generates.

The growing availability of sustainable printing materials, like wood and metal, means manufacturers can also use 3D printing to mass-produce items with minimal waste.

These goods can also be more sustainable than those produced traditionally.

Some research has also found that 3D printing can use less energy than conventional manufacturing techniques, further reducing the environmental footprint. By reducing waste and resource consumption, sustainability may help manufacturers reduce costs and secure a competitive advantage.

Other manufacturing approaches look to recapture existing waste or find ways to turn it into resources other businesses may overlook. Reclaimed and recycled materials are an increasingly popular method for making manufacturing processes more sustainable.

Even as raw materials become more expensive, businesses can keep costs low by finding ways to take advantage of used materials that were set to go to landfills.

Practices that conserve limited raw materials in the first place can also safeguard future profits. Sustainable aquaculture can help fishermen limit resource consumption while avoiding overharvesting, which can result in smaller hauls and lower available revenue in the future. Sustainable lobster fishing uses techniques like v-notching — the marking of female lobsters with eggs — and trap size limits to preserve a population large enough to meet current and future demand.

In most industries, the availability of future resources will be dependent on current resource use to one extent or another. Sustainable resource generation and low-waste manufacturing are essential for businesses wanting to secure future growth.


Creating New Markets With Innovative Sustainable Products

Some products also create new opportunities for consumers. Many of these sustainable items are driving significant growth and reinvigorating markets that have been struggling over the past few years.

One of the best examples of these products is the e-bike, a transportation option often recommended to people wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. Unlike electric vehicles, which are typically thought of as a sustainable alternative to conventional cars, e-bikes create a sustainable transportation option that fills a formerly neglected demand niche.

These bikes are outfitted with a small electric motor and battery. They offer improved mobility and range over a standard bicycle, without the high speed or mechanical complexity of a vehicle like a moped or motorcycle.

In areas where environmental factors make bike travel impractical — like steep hills or long distances between important locations — e-bikes may still function as an effective means of travel. Also, because they can be plugged into any standard outlet, users in areas without EV infrastructure can adopt the bikes without worrying about running out of charge.

There is significant evidence that demand for e-bikes is one of the primary drivers behind the growth in bicycling right now. As imports of pedal-only bikes tanked in 2019 and 2020, there was an explosive increase in e-bike demand. Estimates of the market growth often have it on track to grow noticeably faster than the bike market in the near future, and some observers predict these bikes will eclipse standard options in the next few years.

For people living in or returning to cities and other population-dense areas, transportation options like e-bikes are likely to become much more popular. While bikes aren’t always an effective transportation option, e-bikes may mean consumers won’t have to turn to gas-powered methods — like public transit, conventional cars or mopeds — to get around.

Reducing Resource Consumption

The ongoing pivot to sustainable practices is also changing how and where businesses operate. One of the most significant changes has been in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Companies and architectural firms are starting to take advantage of innovative design techniques and new smart technology to reduce the resources needed to keep new buildings operational.

For example, whole-building design techniques change how structures are organized to save money or reduce energy consumption. Clever window placement can significantly increase the amount of natural lighting an office receives. This can make a building more pleasant for its occupants and reduce electricity costs.

Smart lighting systems, which can automatically adjust artificial sources based on the time of day and how much natural light a room is receiving, can optimize things even further.

Similar design strategies can help businesses cut down water usage or optimize an HVAC system. According to some industry experts, the use of high-performance HVAC equipment can result in cost cuts, emissions reductions and energy savings of up to 40% or more.

Whole-building design techniques can offer greater savings while also reducing the amount of work HVAC systems need to perform to keep a building comfortable. This can reduce the wear and tear in normal operations, meaning components may not have to be replaced or repaired as often.

Sustainability Is Driving Growth Around the World

In the near future, sustainable practices will be key drivers of business growth.

The more mindful use of resources will help ensure businesses minimize waste and keep raw materials available well into the future. New building design strategies will make offices and factories more comfortable and efficient, reducing resource consumption while boosting productivity.

Sustainable business strategies may also meet customer demands that were previously being ignored, such as the use of e-bikes. All these practices will help drive the economy to new heights and help the planet at the same time, something that benefits everyone.

Parabolic Trough

Parabolic Trough Technology to Gain Traction in Concentrated Solar Power Market

The rapid adoption of clean energy across the decentralized grid network is projected to add impetus to the global concentrated solar power market expansion in the foreseeable future. Governments worldwide are focusing on improving the usage of sustainable energy by introducing various policies and reforms.

Likewise, high integration of the thermal energy storage technology, as well as the FDI’s and private investments in the Asia Pacific & the Middle East regions to deploy new concentrated solar power plants, will boost industry share.

The global market has been witnessing robust demand for sustainable electricity, along with mounting investments in solar integrated power grids. Furthermore, the advancements in technology to use the solar receivers with increased thermal performance, the large-scale integration of renewable energy, as well as the rapid sustainable electrical network construction will contribute to notable concentrated solar power market growth over the projected timeframe.

The energy demand across the globe has been constantly rising. Several businesses are making medium- and large-scale investments to develop solar generation farms, which in turn, can drift the regulatory policies & consumer tendencies towards solar technologies. Concentrated solar thermal systems will further gain high prominence over the coming years, due to the restructuring of various trade policies as well as investment flows across the developing economies.

Based on technology, the global concentrated solar power market from the parabolic trough segment is slated to witness remarkable traction in years to come, which is attributable to the rising number of investors, coupled with the utility inclination towards this technology. The segmental growth will also be bolstered by the shifting focus towards the advancements of thermal energy storage options and subsequent development of solar receivers to improve the collector field thermal performance. Additionally, growing R&D activities to adopt storage technology with high absorption rates and longer receiver life cycle will augment the integration of this technology.

In the parabolic trough CSP systems, the solar energy is concentrated by the parabolically curved and trough-shaped reflectors on a receiver pipe above a curved mirror surface. The heat energy is then deployed in the thermal power block to generate power in a conventional steam generator. These accelerating concentrated solar power advantages will amplify the concentrated solar power market outlook over the forecast spell.

In terms of segmentation by capacity, the ≤ 50 MW segment is set to gain significant momentum in the years ahead. The segmental expansion can be credited to the capability of the CSP units to complement the escalating energy demand across the commercial sector as well as their high applicability in small-scale industrial process heat systems to lower the level of fossil fuel consumption.

Furthermore, rising installations of solar thermal power plants across space-constrained areas, coupled with the stringent environmental regulations to ensure carbon reduction, will create ideal growing conditions for the overall concentrated solar power market over the projected timeframe. For example, in 2019, the Indian Government set 7.2% as the solar purchase obligation for the power distribution companies, which will be increased to 10.5% by 2021.

With regards to storage, the global concentrated solar power industry from the without storage segment will depict a considerable growth rate, driven by the low installation costs and complexity. Minimal capital expenditure has also led to a reduction in maintenance and operational costs. Additionally, a paradigm shift towards the installation of these without storage CSP plants due to high capacity utilization and power reliability will boost business growth.

The competitive landscape of the concentrated solar power market consists of companies namely Acciona Energy, Suntrace, Enel Green Power, Abengoa Solar, and ACWA Power, among others. These companies are targeting towards expanding their regional footprint and product portfolio by implementing strategies such as M&A and business expansions.

For instance, in March 2021, ENGIE reached an agreement to acquire a 100-MV concentrated solar power plant from Abengoa, which is equipped with a molten salt storage system and parabolic trough technology to enable 5.5 hours of power storage and deliver electricity during peak demand.



Does Your Company Care About The Environment As Much As Consumers Do?

It’s not just a product’s quality that compels consumers to purchase it. More people today care about how the item was manufactured and whether the company is harming the environment.

Studies show sustainability is a factor driving customers’ buying decisions. Recent research by IBM revealed that nearly six in 10 consumers surveyed are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact, and nearly eight in 10 indicated sustainability is important to them.

That’s why companies can’t afford to pay only lip service to sustainability issues, says David Radlo (, best-selling author of Principles of Cartel DisruptionAccelerate and Maximize Performance, and an internationally recognized expert on corporate innovation and leadership.

“Organizations are under increasing pressure from customers, investors, employees, banks, legislators and insurance companies to embrace social and environmental concerns,” Radlo says. “Studies increasingly show that the business benefits of sustainable strategies can be quantified and are real. There is a significant amount of money to be made and saved in the area of sustainability. It can give you a competitive advantage and improve your brand image, and it can also spur innovation.”

Radlo offers these points on how companies can prioritize and improve sustainability while turning it into a win-win for the environment and their business:

Assess your company’s sustainability level. “Most companies don’t know where to start,” Radlo says. “You start with a complete assessment. As it is conducted, link your sustainability efforts to the strategic plan and how it will impact your stakeholders. Determine your current status and what improvements you’d like to make.”

Identify ways to reduce waste and emissions. “Waste and pollution are indicators of inefficiencies, which tend to generate unneeded costs and environmental problems,” Radlo says. “The goal is to achieve breakthroughs that would lead to manufacturing without any form of waste and no carbon equivalent emissions. Waste elimination is achieved at the source through product design, producer responsibility, and waste reduction strategies down the supply chain. Some concepts to eliminate waste include cleaner production, product dismantling, recycling, reuse, and composting.”

Create an implementation plan and operationalize. “Develop your people for this important transition,” Radlo says. “Along the way, improve your processes and focus on the outcomes you wish to achieve. What measurement can you put into place concerning your customers, employees, stakeholders, and shareholder loyalty?”

Permeate the work culture, in addition to financial sustainability, with a go-green mentality. “The more that overall sustainability is ingrained and practiced in your culture, the stronger the company’s commitment is, and the message spreads organically and authentically,” Radlo says. “When your organization becomes a steward of the environment, and you fully integrate sustainability into your culture, the company now has a long-term vision and the processes in place to continue it.”

“Sustainability works for the greater good of any organization,” Rado says, “and it creates progress toward environmental and social improvement.”


David Radlo (, best-selling author of Principles of Cartel Disruption: Accelerate and Maximize Performance, is an internationally-recognized expert in leadership, innovation, and growth. He is a partner with RB Markets-Achievemost, a Masters professional outside director, a growth coach, and an International Fortune 500 speaker. He is experienced in the U.S. and globally, building sustainable consumer food brands such as Born Free, Farmer’s Best, and Egg-Land’s Best, and has personally negotiated agreements with Fidel Castro. He works with senior executives, venture firms, private, public, family, and college entities. His accomplishments in his 28 years as a CEO include delivering a six-fold increase in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), and a 30-fold increase in enterprise value. He is a graduate of Tufts University and NYU’s Stern School of Business.


Corporations Boast, But Small Businesses Are Key To Cleaner Environment

When major corporations tout their contributions to social or environmental initiatives, the world takes note. As just one example, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Google all drew attention at different times this year when they announced plans to work toward becoming carbon neutral.

But, despite the hype that gets associated with these big-business efforts, it may be that small businesses operating in quiet anonymity are the ones that have the greater impact on the environment, both good and bad.

“Large corporations are more motivated to use these initiatives as a means to achieve their financial objectives, whereas small businesses are more serious about making a real difference in their communities,” says Rajat Panwar, Ph.D. (, an associate professor of Sustainable Business Management at Appalachian State University.

“Given that smokescreening and greenwashing are big problems in sustainability, we will be better off enabling small companies to own sustainability more so than large companies.”

That’s one reason why government-sponsored environmental initiatives need to include small businesses as critical partners if they hope to succeed, Panwar says. For example, he says, presidential candidate Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan that sets a target for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 should take into account the role small businesses can play in environmental protection.

Panwar says a few facts worth knowing on the issue include:

Small businesses’ impact is a story of numbers. Although large corporations get more attention, the vast majority of businesses are small. “In the United States, about 99% of all firms are classified as small,” Panwar says. “Even though their individual contribution to pollution is small, collectively it is enormous, which is why it should be addressed. In fact, large corporations often pollute through small firms because it is a network of numerous small firms that feed into value-chains and supply chains of large corporations.”

Grassroots initiatives need to be targeted. A tremendous gap exists between large corporations and small businesses in terms of the resources they can allocate for environmental initiatives. “That’s why climate investments like those Biden is proposing should target grassroots initiatives,” Panwar says. That would include local food production, support to small landowners for sustainable forestry, grants for circular economy initiatives, grants for businesses that would promote fixing and repairing things, local recycling, and sustainable food systems.

Small businesses are inspired by different motivations. Panwar has been involved in research into the social and environmental impact of small businesses, and he and his colleagues produced intriguing results with their study, especially as it related to what motivates businesses to be good stewards. “Small businesses are motivated to pursue social and environmental initiatives mainly to be good community citizens and generate local reputation,” he says. “Large corporations are typically inclined to pursue these initiatives to enhance shareholder wealth.”

Some people may argue that climate initiatives need to take a backseat right now while the country focuses on getting people back to work. But Panwar says economic stimulus can easily be aligned with environmental protection.

“The initiatives I am talking about will produce new jobs that would support the local economy,” he says. “If we only focused on giving energy grants, then I can see the rationale in pitting job creation versus climate consequences. But climate investments can be done very strategically so that small businesses, entrepreneurs, and landowners get the money to revamp their operations.”


Rajat Panwar, Ph.D. (, is an associate professor of Sustainable Business Management at Appalachian State University. He previously was an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. He also has been an Affiliate Faculty member in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and with the Governance, Environment, and Markets program at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. Panwar holds two doctorate degrees, one in Corporate Sustainability from Grenoble École de Management in France, and one in Forestry from Oregon State University.


How To Make Your Business More Financially Sustainable after COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak in December 2019 came at a time when the global economy was trying to get its act together after being slowed down for a while by trade tensions, especially between China and the US. The much-needed transition towards sustainable manufacturing and clean energy has also played a part in slowing down the global economy, but for a good reason.

When the virus checked into town, all the gains we have experienced over the last decade were turned upside down. Businesses now have to address the health, social, and economic impacts of the coronavirus on top of the already existing geopolitical (e.g. Brexit) issues that impact the business.

Supply chains all over the world have been disrupted by the pandemic, millions of working citizens infected, hundreds of thousands dead, and billions of potential customers rendered jobless. To compound these miseries, most markets are under lockdown, and no one knows for sure when life will get back to normal. The big question now remains: How will business people make their businesses more financially sustainable after COVID-19? Here are 5 measures you can take as a business leader to counter the financial impact of the coronavirus:

1. Leverage employment organizations when expanding internationally

If your intentions were to expand to international markets, or if you had already opened shop overseas, you can collaborate with professional employment organizations to source for and compensate employees. You can, for example, count on a Japan employer of record to help you to establish presence and support personnel in Japan cost-effectively and efficiently. They will help you hire new talents, manage existing staff, and navigate the legal requirements and obligations that come with business ownership in Japan. When you don’t have to worry about managing employee payrolls and compliance issues, or to hire an HR department for that matter, you are able to save on overhead costs until your business recovers fully from the coronavirus shock.

2. Re-evaluate your supply chains

The coronavirus has grossly exposed the vulnerabilities of global supply chains. Companies that depended entirely on Chinese manufacturers or raw materials have been forced to close down temporarily with some closing shop completely. Businesses that will survive this pandemic have to look beyond first- and second-tier suppliers, especially for their key products’ raw materials, and expand their supply lines to bring in more players. Businesses also have to expand their markets. Having a contingency “plan B” will not be enough. You will need to diversify in all aspects of your business so that if one line closes or is unable to recover fast from the pandemic, you will always have alternatives.

3. Reach out to customers

Do everything that you can to retain your main customers. If they owe you, don’t be quick to pressurize them to pay because they are also struggling to get back on their feet. You can loosen repayment terms a bit to accommodate the new normal- this is one of the small prices you may have to pay in order to keep your business afloat. Your lenders are probably doing the same for you. The most important thing here is to maintain open communication lines with your debtors, creditors, and other clients and being honest with one another in case of any payment difficulties. In the long run, when you are all back on your feet, you will still have your customers, and cash will start flowing in as it used to.

Reaching out to customers also means reaching out to new markets, or offering more products to your existing market. If your existing market isn’t recovering as fast as other markets, it is okay to move your business elsewhere. If one of your competitors has closed shop, this is your chance to move in for their customers. Be courageous to fill in every gap that the virus could have created within your market, and to explore other options that could bring in additional cash provided they won’t compromise your brand identity.

4. Update your terms and conditions

There are some terms and conditions that you have held on for too long, some of which have left your business vulnerable during the ongoing pandemic. This is the time to scrap them all and create better terms that protect you from future crises. In fact, you would rather pull out of a contract now and pay the cancellation fee, rather than push on with it and incur losses in the end.

Going forward, you need to take a proactive approach in revenue, employee, clients, and commercial risks management. Crisis management is a process; not just an event. You will need all the teamwork and support that you can get if you are to pull this off. Flex your network and get rid of any dead weight.