Scotland is leading the way in helping businesses build the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into their everyday business models for the benefit of us and the planet.

The scale of environmental, social and economic challenge facing humanity is enormous, with a real urgency to act. Scotland was one of the first countries to adopt the global targets of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

These are a universal call to action for all countries to tackle poverty and inequality, protect the planet and ensure peace, prosperity and justice for all. “This vision is underpinned by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s (SEPA) own regulatory strategy, One Planet Prosperity, which aims to deliver environmental protection and improvement in ways which help communities and businesses thrive within the resources of our planet,” explains SEPA’s head of innovation, Catherine Preston.

“Scotland’s businesses have a critical role to play in leading Scotland’s contribution to achieving Sustainable Development Goals – this will also realise the economic benefit of increased resource efficiency, innovation and resilience.”

This has inspired a new collaboration between SEPA and ICAS (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland) to help businesses integrate Sustainable Development Goals into their
day-to-day work.

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Last month SEPA and ICAS hosted the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Sustainable Development Goals Reporting Working Group, which brought
together leading businesses, trade bodies, regulators, charities, universities and government agencies.

The launch followed on from Making Global Goals Local Business, the 2018 Sustainable Development Goals roadshow hosted by the United
Nations Global Compact Network UK. This is one of more than 85 local networks set up by UN Global Compact around the world to help translate Sustainable Development Goals into business action and innovation.

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“The Scottish SDGs Reporting Working Group is focusing on two key challenges,” Preston says. “Firstly, how can businesses seize the opportunities of Sustainable Development Goals by building them into their business models and also benefit the Scottish economy, environment and most importantly, our people? “Secondly, how can the Scottish approach to One Planet Prosperity and Sustainable Development Goals create transformational impact across the UK and globally?”

These are big ambitions. So the vision is to translate the global helicopter view of Sustainable Development Goals into practical hands-on tools and
approaches that can be used in the day-to-day work of businesses – with benefit for them, their local communities and the environment.

There are already great examples in Scotland of Sustainable Development Goals in action. For example, Scottish Water and SEPA have signed a Sustainable Growth Agreement focused on finding new ways to recover more resources from the wastes it manages and generates. It aims to contribute to ten of the Sustainable Development
Goals. On the Isle of Lewis, the Outer Hebrides Local Energy Hub is an innovative partnership project between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the local authority), Community Energy Scotland, Pure Energy Centre and The Scottish Salmon Company demonstrating how different renewable energy technologies can be integrated to support local energy economies
and circular supply chains.

In the retail industry, brands including Aldi, Asda, Ikea, Boots and Next have signed up to the British Retail Consortium’s Better Retail Better World initiative, which sets out a range of targets in line with Sustainable Development Goals. There are many more examples – and the hope is that businesses will share ideas and experiences through the new Scottish SDGs Reporting Working Group.

“The group will run for 18 months, with the aim of delivering a suite of practical tools and approaches by 21st April 2020 – World Creativity and Innovation Day,” Preston explains. “We’ll do this through themed events and building partnerships, with an initial focus on strategy and reporting to create a consistent approach for everyone.

Then we’ll look at different ‘Scotland’s businesses have a critical role to play in leading our contribution to achieving Sustainable Development Goals approaches based on different types and sizes of organisations, because a global financial institution might take a different approach to a small business or a non-governmental organisation. The last stage will involve pulling together our learnings and experience into a package of tools, simple guidance and case studies for promoting more widely to businesses.”

SEPA’s One Planet Prosperity strategy reflects that society is currently using the resources of three planets, and needs to live within its means. ICAS also promotes best practice amongst its members on environmental
sustainability and related corporate social responsibility issues.

This includes the importance of building sustainability measures into the reporting of company accounts, to help drive decision-making in this area.

“ICAS and SEPA could have steered this initiative on their own, but something much bigger and better will be delivered through businesses driving the working group and collaborating to develop shared ideas and action,” Preston concludes.

Organisations interested in helping to shape the future of sustainable development goal action and reporting, can contact Catherine Preston, SEPA’s head of innovation.

The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.

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In association with ...

The Scottish Environment  Protection Agency (SEPA)
A non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government oversees environmental regulation, monitors and reports on the state of the environment, raises awareness of environmental issues, and resolves environmental harms.

Zero Waste Scotland
A publicly-funded organisation working towards a society where resources are valued and nothing is wasted. It attempts to influence and enable change by gathering evidence, supporting positive projects and providing technical advice and training.

Low Carbon Scotland
Organiser of conferences and events aimed at addressing the current carbon reduction position, enabling those leading and driving policies and proposals to share their vision, and highlighting Scotland as the best place in which to invest in low-carbon businesses.