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Advancing Sustainability Through Innovation: A Major Business Opportunity

22/01/2016 12:35 | Updated 22 January 2016

2015 was a historic year for sustainable development. It saw two long processes culminate in success as world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate. The world has a plan for making the transition to a sustainable and low-carbon economy. This is the start of a new era. If 2015 was the year of commitments, 2016 must be the year to start delivering the solutions that will address the systemic issues our societies face: poverty, accelerating environmental degradation and the need for shared prosperity.

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As political and economic leaders at the World Economic Forum focus on mastering the "Fourth Industrial Revolution", a crucial part of that debate on where technological change will take us next is how we can harness it to make economic and social development more sustainable. Historically, business has led technological progress and will be a critical implementation partner for governments by putting innovation at the service of society and environment.

Achieving the SDGs imply significant investments that will require both public and private sector funding. The SDGs will change our measures of performance and prosperity that will tie business opportunities to societal progress and environmental protection. For business, embracing the SDGs as a growth opportunity will open new markets, require innovation and contribute to the global effort to build a resilient and inclusive low carbon economy.

Unleashing the innovative potential of business will improve lives across the planet and help protect our climate and ecosystems. In 2015, the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi) led by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) brought together over 150 global businesses with 70 partners to work collaboratively on the climate challenge. Ahead of COP21, the nine working groups covering different industries agreed a statement of ambition and developed short-term action plans for their respective sectors. In 2016, the groups will focus on implementation and present outcomes at COP22. A PwC analysis of the potential impact of LCTPi highlights that if its ambitions are met, the initiative could get society 65% of the way to a 2°C emissions pathway. It could also channel $5-10 trillion of investment toward low carbon sectors of the economy and support 20-45 million person-years of employment.

Examples of forward-thinking businesses putting sustainability at the heart of their strategies are growing every day. Through the We Mean Business Coalition that works with the world's most influential businesses and investors, more than 500 global companies have committed to bold climate action. Others are investing in natural infrastructure or working to remove commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains.

We need leadership, concrete action and collaboration for building the sustainable world we aim for. 2015 demonstrated the willingness and capacity of business to support governments in making the transition to a low carbon and inclusive economy. This transition has already started. Yet achieving the SDGs and remaining within our planetary boundaries requires us to accelerate the pace of this transition. We need more companies to build on the progress that was made, push for more and bring sustainability to scale fast.

This year, Davos saw the launch of the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development which will investigate economic incentives for investment in sustainability and articulate a compelling business case to get business engaged in the delivery of the SDGs. The Commission will build a roadmap for all stakeholders - business, government and society - to collaborate to achieve the SDGs.

Business holds the key to the technological solutions that will keep the world ahead of its sustainable development targets. By integrating sustainability at the core of their strategic decision-making and continuously reporting on progress, companies can help build the thriving economy that will bring prosperity for all. Aligning the disclosures and reporting can provide investors with a comparable new performance picture to guide their capital allocation decisions. In short, by aligning the economic costs and benefits with the future we want, will we achieve the SDGs faster
As the world shifts from words to action, Davos makes a promising start to the year of implementation. It proves to be an excellent opportunity for business and government leaders to exchange on the practical next steps to move sustainability forward.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark The World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2016 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 20-23). The theme of this year's conference is "Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution." Read all the posts in the series here.

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