Business in a Post-2015 World: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals

Twenty fifteen will be a landmark year in global efforts to alleviate poverty and chart a new pathway to development progress, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) building upon and replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In this 90-minute open-concept session, participants will engage in a dynamic conversation about how the sustainability community can effectively leverage these frameworks to support the development of a more inclusive economy in 2015 and beyond. We will pose questions such as: How will the post-2015 SDGs differ from the MDGs, and what’s the opportunity for business to engage? What have we learned about how business can contribute to global development? Why is poverty alleviation important for business in the short-, medium-, and long-term?


  • Paul Ladd, Head, Team on the Post–2015 Development Agenda, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme
  • Sharon Kathryn D'Agostino, Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, Johnson & Johnson
  • Lisa Gibby, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Nestlé Corporate Affairs
  • Racheal Meiers, Director, HERproject, BSR (Moderator)


  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a structured opportunity for companies to invest in the long-term sustainability of their business models in the developing world, reduce social and environmental risks, and build products and services for underserved populations.

  • While the SDGs’ scope is both broad and ambitious, rapid progress can result from effectively collaborating with the business community, governments, and civil society.

  • The transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs represents a fundamental shift in the human development agenda. The former reflect a Western-led, philanthropy-oriented system, while the latter are inclusive of business and fundamentally structured by the concept of shared value and forward-looking, holistic concepts of sustainability.

Memorable Quotes

“The Sustainable Development Goals are very relevant to Nestlé—goals such as ending hunger and extreme poverty are core to our business model as the world’s largest food producer … we need to create value not only for shareholders but also to society at large.” —Lisa Gibby, Nestlé

“We are seeing a shift away from charity and philanthropy into shared value and inclusive business, where the fundamental investment decisions are becoming more aligned with societal outcomes—the SDGs are a reflection of this change.” —Paul Ladd, United Nations Development Programme Fund

“There is often a disconnect between what private sector says and does. The Sustainable Development Goals are an opportunity for us to hold ourselves accountable and an opportunity from a commitment reporting perspective to display that we are following through with our commitments.” —Sharon D’Agostino, Johnson & Johnson


To kick off the session, BSR’s Racheal Meiers gave a brief overview of the format and introduced the three speakers. She noted that building value while promoting an inclusive economy is a recurring theme throughout this year’s Conference, as evidenced by plenary speakers Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, and Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo.

Meiers then gave an overview of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), noting key data points that frame the discussion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the 1 billion individuals who have risen out of poverty over the last two decades and the projection that 500 million more people are expected to emerge from extreme poverty over the next two decades.

Meiers then transitioned to a series of questions and dialogue with the three speakers, starting with Sharon Kathryn D’Agostino about Johnson & Johnson’s commitments to women and children’s health and how they relate to alleviating poverty. D’Agostino discussed the company’s commitment to reach 120 million women per year in five key areas: ensuring safe childbirth, providing pharmaceutical donations, eliminating vertical HIV transmission, investing in delivering information to low-resource areas, and conducting research on diseases. She also explained that Ban Ki-moon’s call to action during the 2010 MDG summit was a turning point for involving the private sector in human development issues. D’Agostino finally described the need for meaningful partnerships and the challenge of effectively tracking progress against stated objectives.

Meiers then asked Lisa Gibby about Nestlé’s exposure to risks from global poverty and its approach to shared value. Gibby responded that Nestlé’s sourcing, production, and consumption are all local, leaving them exposed to local risks, including water scarcity, poverty, and climate change—consequently, Nestlé seeks to invest at all levels of the value chain in farming communities that are at risk. Since 2009, Nestlé has been investing in community development, farmer education, and in products that help underserved communities.

Meiers then asked Paul Ladd to define the SDGs and explain why they are relevant to the business community. Ladd gave an overview of the MDGs, describing them as a beacon for resource application and engagement across sectors. He emphasized that the MDGs have been generally effective, despite results that vary across regions and the fact that climate change and political and economic turmoil have undercut some progress. The SDGs, Ladd argued, aim to finish what the MDGs started but reach farther to cover emerging or omitted issues. He called out one of the MDGs’ main shortfalls as a lack of private sector engagement—in contrast, the SDGs have been structured to engage business more explicitly from their inception.

Ladd also discussed the timeline and near-term outlook for the SDGs, noting that they are due to be finalized in late 2015 and scheduled to be implemented beginning in January 2016. He said that national governments will be debating the shape and accountability frameworks for the SDGs throughout 2015.

Meiers then asked Gibby and D’Agostino how they see the SDGs and what impact they hope these new goals will have on the private sector. D’Agostino described the SDGs as an opportunity for private sector engagement and noted that they can serve as a benchmark for companies as they allocate resources. Gibby highlighted the increased private sector engagement with the development process and Nestlé’s engagement in particular; she believes the SDGs will serve as a platform for technological innovation, market opportunities, and greater transparency among companies and governments. Gibby and D’Agostino then discussed the responsibilities that companies have to invest in shared value in step with the SDGs and the business opportunities they present, such as technological innovation and product design.

Meiers then asked Ladd for his optimal vision of business involvement in the SDGs. Ladd responded that he would like to see governments, businesses, and civil society self-select relevant goals and establish nimble, bold platforms for global cross-sector collaboration.

The very active Q&A session included questions for all the panelists. One notable question, from Wesley Gee at Works Design Communications, involved the impetus for companies to focus on the SDGs and meet related targets. Ladd remarked that the SDGs offer significant opportunities for companies looking at their long-term business model in the coming decades but also noted that he expects an incentive or enforcement structure to be put in place at some point.

Once the Q&A concluded, the session transitioned into small group discussions, and participants were asked to discuss and note the potential business assets and macroeconomic benefits of the SDGs as well as suggest improvements or identify shortcomings. Meiers closed the session by thanking speakers and participants.


November 4, 2014