Call to action
In 2015, the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the General Assembly as a universal call to action to end poverty, empower women, protect the planet, and ensure that more of the world’s people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Across Canada, governments, organizations, and individuals took up the cause. Many private sector businesses in Ontario had sustainability plans already in place and were positioned to accelerate their targets to meet the 2030 Agenda. Working individually and collectively, small to medium to large scale businesses have stepped up and begun to transform their models, from supply chain to product sales, improving and growing each year.
In 2017, more than 50 leaders from business, government, and academia gathered for a Sustainability Summit in London, Ontario. They knew collaboration would increase their collective impact. The summit was organized by 3M Canada. “We work closely with our suppliers, our customers, and our communities—through events like the Sustainability Summit—to share ideas about how to work together to address the sustainability challenges we all face” said Mojdeh Poul, the company’s then-President. 3M’s sustainability strategy aligns to the SDGs, and they have already made strong progress against their targets.
Business networks are also taking collective action. Toronto-based Competent Boards provides professional development and advisory services focused on bringing sustainability insights to corporate boards, investors, and executives around the world. Global Compact Network Canada is dedicated to assisting businesses with the advancement of the SDGs. The Compact promotes the best practices of Canadian companies and connects them with the broader UN Global Compact network of 13,000 signatories in over 160 countries.
Newmarket electronics manufacturer Celestica was one of two Canadian companies named in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World in 2019. This Ontario-based enterprise has operations in over 29 worldwide locations and is known as a sustainability leader, incorporating the SDGs into their corporate strategy. It focuses on embedding the five elements of their sustainability program into their corporate culture—employee sustainability, environmental sustainability, material stewardship, sustainable solutions, and sustainable communities.
Unilever, another global company, has made massive strides in sustainable growth and consumer trust. Since 2008, they have seen a 52% reduction in their CO2 emissions and are committed to improving livelihoods of the 746,000 smallholder farmers in their supply chain. Former CEO and Awakening contributor, Paul Polman, suggests that the SDGs offer business unprecedented economic potential and that achieving them would produce valuable market opportunities, unlocking economic growth of upwards of $15 trillion while creating 380 million jobs by 2030.
Angora is a world-leading company based in Collingwood that fabricates the largest architectural glass in North America, from the CN Tower to skyscrapers in New York City. Beyond their unique products, what is remarkable is their approach to business puts people at the centre of their success and their thoughtful contributions to building sustainable community.
Collaboration and innovation
In 2019, Canada’s Greenest Employers list included Xerox Canada—a company with the ultimate goal of becoming a carbon-neutral organization. Xerox’s yearly Corporate Social Responsibility Report outlines its extensive sustainability program, including how it nurtures new businesses. The Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC) is a state-of-the-art facility that houses a thriving Innovation Hub that supports promising Canadian start-ups and helps them grow their businesses.
Sustainability has been a part of my working life both past and present. Some days I feel the frustration of debates that I heard 30 years ago and yet there are moments of encouragement as more and more people embrace the agenda and move from rhetoric to action.
As I have travelled the province, I have seen businesses large and small who fundamentally understand what is means to be sustainable. From Hummingbird Chocolate in Almonte, where their supply chain is carefully monitored and the store is a beloved gathering place, to 3M in London, where innovation and technology are combined with a human scale effort to drive sustainability, and the Xerox Research Centre of Canada in Mississauga, where the next generation of businesses are being developed, Ontario is buzzing.
There are so any stories that demonstrate the important role of the business community in bringing together inclusive economic prosperity with social cohesion and environmental stewardship. In business we often see the qualities that we need in order to bring about a sustainable future, including visionary leadership, a dedication to creativity and innovation, and the ability to forge meaningful and strong cooperation. And, of course, entrepreneurial spirit. In business terms, this is an untapped market of—yes—potential customers, but also innovators and workers who we cannot afford to leave behind.
I take pride in the contributions that many in Ontario’s private sector are making to sustainability. Their truly visionary leadership is being felt here in our communities and far beyond our borders.Sustainability