CEO Guide to the

Sustainable Development Goals

CEO Guide to the Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals and the Role of Business

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out a framework of 17 Goals and 169 targets to tackle the world’s most pressing social, economic, and enviromental challenges in the lead-up to 2030.

While ultimately it is governments who are being asked to deliver the SDGs, the simple fact is that this critical agenda cannot be realized without effective engagement by the private sector.

Business has a critical role to play as:

  • a source of finance;
  • a driver of innovation and technology; and
  • an engine of economic growth and employment.

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission

As much as the SDGs need business, long-term business success also hinges on the realization of the SDGs. The Business & Sustainable Development Commission, which is led by over 30 business and civil society leaders, has produced compelling research mapping the economic prize that could be available to business if the SDGs are achieved. It’s Better Business, Better World report points to market opportunities of at least $12 trillion a year that could be unlocked by 2030.

This critical
agenda cannot
be realized
from business

Implications for business

From a business perspective, it is important to understand the implications of the SDGs across four key pillars:

Doing nothing is a costly option

As escalating environmental and social burdens begin to restrain future growth prospects, failure to take action on the SDGs represents a mounting business cost. Furthermore, neglecting to integrate the SDgs strategically also poses a long-term regulatory risk and a reputational risk as governments move to reflect the SDGs in national policy and stakeholders look to business to engage meaningfully in this agenda.

The prize of aligning business strategies with the SDGs

There is a massive market incentive for companies who are able to offer SDG-relevant technologies and solutions through sustainable and inclusive business models. Furthermore, companies that align themselves with the SDGs will also be able to consolidate a strong license to operate, differentiating themselves from competitors and building trust among governments, shareholders and customers.

Better information = better decisions

The SDGs also bring a new dynamic to governance and transparency. Better information equals better decision-making; disclosing sustainability risks and impacts, and pricing them appropriately, is increasingly where the market is headed.

Realizing the SDGs is beyond the reach of one company

Business as usual will not achieve the SDGs, now will innovation by a few pioneers. This agenda is beyond the reach of anyone company and will require collaboration across sectors, supply chains and economic systems, as well as innovative partnership with governments and civil society.

Strong and
visionary CEO
is essential

Action points

There are a number of actions that you can take to align your organization with the SDGs and plot a course towards unlocking the value they represent.


Stay informed  

Make the SDGs your business. Keep up with the sustainable development agenda to ensure that your organization is well placed to capitalize upon opportunities and pre-empt disruptive risks.

Spread the word  

Engage your network of peers on this agenda to create a tipping point for business engagement.


Understand and measure

Develop a thorough understanding of how your company’s business activities translate into economic, environmental and social impacts in the context of the SDGs.

Set goals   

Plot a course towards enhancing positive and mitigating negative SDG impacts.

Develop business solutions  

Apply an SDG lens at the strategic level to harness your organization’s potential to engineer business solutions that make your company more successful and sustainable.


Consider regular and transparent communication of SDG performance and progress.


Come together  

Collaborate with peers and other stakeholders to frame the SDGs in the context of your sector.


Set a collective vision for your industry and collaborate on initiatives to realize sector transformation.

Issue calls to action  

Call for all companies in the sector to align, collaborate and report on their progress.



Openly advocate for the introduction of key policy and finance enablers that will help to achieve a tipping point.

We invite
partners and
to work with us
to scale up action
towards 2030
and beyond

WBCSD as an enabler for action at scale

WBCSD is pursuing initiatives that promote business action on the SDGs at scale. These are led by our membership of 200 leading companies and supported by strong institutional partnerships, including a Global Network of over 60 business organizations worldwide.

Sector roadmaps

WBCSD is taking steps to leverage our extensive networks across multiple industries to create sector-specific roadmaps which articulate a common vision towards realizing the SDGs.

Redefining Value

WBCSD is developing innovative frameworks and resources to advance non-financial capital measurement, valuation and reporting, helping companies improve their decision-making and produce more effective and meaningful external reporting and disclosure.

WBCSD Business Solutions

WBCSD has a ready-made suite of over 40 Business Solutions that are being driven forward by our member companies. These solutions can help your company strengthen its competitiveness and resilience whilst contributing to the realization of a wide range of SDGs.

SDG Compass

In collaboration with GRI and the UN Global Compact, WBCSD has developed a step-by-step guide for companies to align their strategies with the SDGs and measure and manage their impacts. It is supported by a live and constantly updated inventory of business indicators and tools. The SDG Compass is available in 12 languages.

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