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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

SRI attends the UN Global Compact Summit 2023

Published: 23 October 2023

The Sustainability and Resilience Institute was in attendance of the two day UN Global Compact Network Summit on 16th & 17th October 2023, a coming together of members of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. The UN Global Compact uses the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to promote sustainable practices and works to support the target of achieving the goals by 2030.

The summit was opened by the Rt Hon the Lord Mayor of London Alderman Nicholas Lyons, sessions took the forms of panels, ‘fireside’ conversations, debates and webinars, representatives from a broad range of organisations; including enterprise, NGOs, government bodies and Universities took part in the summit to share experience, evidence and best practice.

Representatives and delegates discussed the high importance of social impact in enterprise and the need to ensure the socially focused Sustainable Development Goals targets have equal consideration to those concerning environmental impacts. Representatives discussed that within the Environment, Social Impact and Governance (ESG) framework measuring the impact of social impacts has not become as mainstream as measuring the impact of environmental impacts and that metrics in this area where often underdeveloped. How to measure and benchmark social impact was debated with innovative methods discussed, such as using satellite imagery to identify areas where modern slavery and human trafficking were taking place and how providing a Real Living Wage to employees is a clear demonstration of a commitment to social impact that can be communicated to stakeholders.

A central theme throughout the summit was the shift towards engaging with and supporting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It was identified that SMEs encountered considerable challenges in transitioning to sustainable practices, with representatives from SMEs sharing their experiences and analysis of these challenges. Issues raised were the difficulties SMEs may face with their own supply chains, having to prioritise cost over sustainability, the uncertainty they experience in understanding the SDGs and how to apply them to their own practices. The summit saw the launch of the first SDG Playbook for SMEs, giving clear and practical advice for SMEs on integrating the SDGs into their enterprise, how to identify which SDGs are most relevant to them and their stakeholders, and how to establish metrics to measure their progress.

The increased need for collaboration was echoed across sessions and methods of best practice around collaboration were shared. The need to collaborate and support SMEs in the supply chains of large enterprises was highlighted, with an indication that these enterprises have a responsibility to collaborate with those in their supply chain to work towards the SDGs. Collaboration was also considered a key factor in progressing the overall SDG agenda within industry, representatives stated that there was a need for enterprises to work together to identify where they could provide support for each other across the Goals.

Overall, the UN Global Compact Network Summit 2023 saw clear shifts in the way cooperate bodies are engaging with the SDGs, with movement towards tackling social impacts across the sector and an increase in consideration of the role of SMEs in transitioning to a sustainable society. Representatives called for collaboration and a positive approach across the sector to achieve the SDGs by 2030.


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