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By embracing the SDGs we will Prosper

On 25 September, governments around the world officially adopted a set of global goals – the SDGs - to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. There are 17 goals backed by specific targets to be achieved by 2030. It is not an exaggeration to say that these goals – in conjunction with the Paris Climate Change agreement signed in December - will define the UN's agenda for the next 15 years and have a huge impact on corporate sustainability initiatives.

From a business perspective, the SDGs are especially significant for two key reasons.

First, we now have the first ever comprehensive and practical definition of sustainable development, which acknowledges the interconnection between the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development. This is a hugely significant and welcome step forward. It enables all sectors of society to come together behind a shared vision of a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world, which everyone has a role to play in making a reality.

Second, the SDGs reflect a growing consensus amongst Governments and civil society that the private sector has a central role to play in development, and a deeper understanding of how business can best contribute.

Whilst philanthropy and community investment continue to play a role, our most powerful contribution to the SDGs will be made through our everyday business – through the jobs we create and sustain, the economic growth and investment that we stimulate, the way we steward natural resources, and the high standards of responsible behaviour that we set ourselves right across our business. We want to grow profitably, so that we can sustain and increase both our direct contributions and the wider impacts that ripple through local economies. Put simply, when our business prospers, so will communities around us.

The SDGs create both an opportunity and a responsibility for SABMiller and the wider business community to harness all our capabilities and resources in support. They are a framework to guide our alignment with global and local priorities, and to structure our discussions and our partnerships with governments and other actors. They also provide an important yardstick against which to measure our progress.

When we developed our new sustainable development strategy Prosper, in 2014, one of our considerations was how it would enable us to contribute to the SDGs, then under development. Prosper integrates sustainable development into our business through five Shared Imperatives: 1) accelerating growth and social development through our value chains; 2) making beer the natural choice for the moderate and responsible drinker; 3) securing shared water resources for the business and local communities; 4) creating value through reduced waste and carbon emissions; 5) supporting responsible and sustainable use of land for brewing crops. We selected these imperatives carefully to reflect the societal and environmental risks and opportunities that are most material for our business, and which we share with others.

So we will contribute to SDGs focused on achieving women’s empowerment, the management of natural resources, and promoting more inclusive economic growth through our commitment to support over half a million small businesses in our value chain to enhance their business growth and family livelihoods by 2020. One such initiative is our 4e “Path to Progress” programme in Latin America, which provides small neighbourhood shop owners with training and mentoring in classrooms and in their stores, and aims to support 190,000 shop owners by 2020, 70 per cent of whom will be women. Conservatively, it is estimated that these retailers support more than 750,000 people.

The sustainable management of water and access to sanitation is another Global Goal that we will advance through our partnership approach to tackling shared water risks. In Neemrana, Rajasthan for example, our support for more water-efficient infrastructure and farming practices have led to increases in ground water levels in the project area of 23%, whilst participating farmers have on average increased their productivity per hectare by 235.5%, and their disposable incomes by an average 21%.

In support of efforts to combat climate change, we are working with suppliers, distributors, retailers, municipalities and consumers to reduce emissions and waste across our value chain, to reuse and recycle waste and packaging, and to create value for our business and small businesses from this waste. Such as investing in energy-saving devices and LED lighting for fridges, reducing the energy consumption of older fridges by up to 40%.

Whilst solutions to some major development challenges are becoming more apparent, so too is its scale. Each challenge is too great and too complex for any one sector to tackle alone. This is why collaboration has been placed at the heart of the SDGs. It is also at the heart of Prosper.

Mobilising more resources for the SDGs will mean continuing and closer public – private collaboration, with multi-stakeholder partnerships increasingly essential to aligning agendas, sharing risks and ensuring shared accountability. We know from the many global, regional and local partnerships that we participate in that we can further enhance and scale up our contribution when stakeholders in other sectors: whether they be governments, donors, civil society and academia - bring their unique resources and capabilities to the table in partnership with us.

The world now has an inspirational collective vision for the future, an integrated set of goals and targets, a clear understanding of how sectors can best contribute and a renewed sense of collective purpose. Building a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future is something we all aspire to, and at SABMiller we are joining in. Everyone in our business across 80 countries and six continents can play a role. I am optimistic that if we harness all the resources and capabilities available across business, governments and civil society, we have a good chance of achieving the SDGs in our lifetime.

This post is a part of the March 2016 series on Inclusive Business and the Sustainable Development Goals. View the whole series for more examples, tools and insights to help you understand what the SDGs mean for business.