Achieving sustainable development goals by 2030 should not only be a governmental effort — it is in the hands of businesses too.
Table of Content
Businesses that play a role in achieving sustainable development goals
Plug and Play’s involvement in Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, 193 member states of the United Nations gathered together and devised the most ambitious plan known to man, aiming for a better, sustainable future. Introducing sustainable development goals (SDGs) was a commitment to solving the most critical challenges on the planet by 2030.
We now have less than a decade to fulfilling 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end the extremes that are causing the deterioration of our world and the quality of life. While many might feel that a large chunk of responsibility falls on governmental organizations to address these environmental, social, and economic issues, businesses also play an essential part in ensuring sustainable development.
Why sustainable development goals matter to businesses
Capitalizing on US$12 trillion market opportunities
Today’s business landscape is characterized by an unprecedented mix of challenges and opportunities. As witnessed in the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the entire world economy can be disrupted in a short period of time. Factors such as the mass adoption of new technology, a sudden lack of natural resources, or a halt in supply chains all have an impact on businesses’ ability to run.
But with risks, come opportunities. New markets appear when global trends such as overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, climate change, and global health risks emerge. Businesses that decide to take on one of the 17 sustainable development goals have the potential to unlock innovations that reverse these challenges while leading the world toward economic prosperity. In a report published by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission in 2017, it is also estimated that businesses could expect to unlock over US$12 trillion a year in market opportunities by implementing sustainable development practices.
Transforming business activities into a circular model
Human activities have been causing environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, more so in the last few decades. The finite number of natural resources continues to deplete while more waste gets created daily. An obvious example can be seen in the prevalent plastic pollution crisis. Each day, the world uses more plastic than it could ever find a way to manage — only 9% of global plastic waste gets recycled out of 400 million tons of yearly waste created globally.
There are no shortages of waste and an infinite number of renewable resources is still up for grabs. With this in mind, businesses need to utilize innovative methods to extract the most value from these materials. Following the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals enable the private sector to not only reduce the cost associated with material sourcing but also counteract the environmental and social impact by adding value to existing resources.
Sustainable practices can help businesses reduce their operating costs. For example, energy-efficient buildings and equipment can reduce energy costs, while reducing waste can lower disposal costs. Sustainable practices can also help businesses avoid regulatory fines and reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions.
Businesses can lessen their environmental impact by implementing sustainable practices that aim to decrease waste, preserve resources, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, this can contribute to a healthier planet and promote a more sustainable future for everyone.
Giving a positive impression to consumers and investors
With the widespread availability of internet access, consumers and investors have access to more information than ever before. As a result, they are increasingly aware of the negative impact that businesses can have on the environment and society. Therefore, they expect businesses to take responsibility for their actions and contribute to creating a more sustainable future.
However, this is not the only reason investors have in mind. While one may invest in sustainability for ethical reasons, it should come as no surprise that an investor’s goal is to maximize returns. The fact is, more investors are foreseeing higher ROI among businesses that align themselves with sustainable development goals.
As of 2021, over half of the investors from a Schroders Global Investors Study reported that they would feel comfortable building their portfolio based on sustainability. When environmental and social issues such as climate change pose investment risks in the long run, focusing on sustainable investing can secure investors with long-term wealth while strengthening support for the world and its people.
There is a growing understanding, especially by business leaders and investors ahead of the curve, that it is not enough for companies to concern themselves only with short-term profits because natural disasters, social unrest, or economic disparity can damage long-term prosperity. The businesses that understand this challenge and take action will be a step ahead. And for them, the successful implementation of sustainable development goals will strengthen the enabling environment for doing business and building markets around the world.
As consumers become more insistent that businesses take accountability for their environmental and social impact, adopting sustainable practices can help build a favorable brand reputation and establish a competitive advantage. Businesses that are recognized for their environmental and social responsibility are more likely to appeal to and retain customers, employees, and investors.
“Business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals, and communicate transparently about the results.”
– Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations
Increasing employee engagement
Employee engagement is an important factor for business success and sustainability. When employees feel connected to the work they do and feel that they are contributing to a bigger cause, they are more likely to be motivated and productive. By adopting sustainable practices, businesses can create a sense of purpose among employees, which can increase employee engagement.
When employees see that their company is committed to environmental and social responsibility, they feel proud to work for the organization and can identify with its values. This can result in employees being more invested in their work, leading to increased productivity, innovation, and retention.
Moreover, sustainable practices can offer opportunities for employees to be creative and contribute to the company's sustainable development goals. This can lead to a sense of ownership and empowerment among employees, making them feel more engaged.
Meeting regulatory compliance
As sustainability becomes an increasingly important issue, many governments around the world are introducing regulations and policies that aim to encourage sustainable practices. By adopting sustainable practices, businesses can ensure that they comply with these regulations and avoid potential fines or legal action.
Businesses that demonstrate a commitment to operating in an environmentally and socially responsible way can maintain a positive reputation and build trust with stakeholders. This can be beneficial in attracting customers, employees, and investors who are looking for companies that share their values.
By taking a proactive approach to sustainability, businesses can position themselves as leaders in their industry and build a competitive advantage. They can also attract top talent who are interested in working for companies that share their values and have a positive impact on society.
Businesses that play a role in achieving sustainable development goals
SDG Goal 2: Zero Hunger
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
Hunger is the leading cause of death in the world. According to the UN, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a global rise in food insecurity with over 800 million people affected by hunger in 2021.
While our planet has provided us with a wealth of resources, the lack of access to food leaves close to one in ten global population undernourished. Inflation, the rise of food costs, and the disruption of food supply chains—exacerbated by the war in Ukraine—make food insecurity an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.
At the same time, the rise of temperature and sea levels globally directly results in more heat waves, droughts, or worse, wildfires. Farmers are now struggling to grow food under these volatile and unpredictable weather patterns.
In an industry worth over $9 trillion, we can safely assume there will be no shortage of demand, and that the responsibility to produce food sustainably also falls on players in the business. The good news is, modern technologies have enabled agriculture to evolve sustainably, allowing farmers to produce more food with efficiency and without negative environmental impact.
Today, let’s look at a startup Plug and Play has been working with that is aiming to get the world one step closer to zero hunger.
Solar Foods: Achieving SDG Goal 2 and food security by producing nutrient-rich protein out of thin air.
Traditional agriculture relies on land and climate conditions for the produce as well as livestock to flourish. Yet, it is responsible for one-third of our world’s greenhouse gas emissions. What if we say there’s a product that removes environmental degradation from the entire food production chain and allows food to be grown anywhere in the world?
Solar Foods introduced Solein, a natural protein produced by gas fermentation that requires only 3 ingredients in the process: air, water, and energy. Solein does not fall into the plant-based category; it is essentially a single-cell microbe grown in a lab. This means it can be grown even in the most unyielding conditions and can help the world secure the future supply of protein once commercially available for the years to come.
Solar Foods joined Plug and Play’s Smart Cities accelerator program during our 2nd batch. The company presents a concept that redefines the conventional method of food production, as it is not dependent on agriculture, the weather, or the climate.
SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
Healthy oceans are essential to our existence as it provides all the necessities that allow the earth to be habitable. Yet, we have managed to severely degrade these once-thriving resources. With over 85% of the ocean and marine ecosystems already harmed by human activities, we need to start protecting life below water by eliminating pollution and overfishing that have caused irreversible damage to marine life around the world.
Seafood is one of the best sources of protein and has become a growing staple in many diets. The rise of pescetarianism and health consciousness, coupled with urbanization and rapid population growth in the last decades, all contribute to this popularity. Unfortunately, the rising demand for seafood fueled the industry to resort to unethical practices to serve the market’s supply.
We’ve now entered a new era. According to a survey conducted in 8 countries, two-thirds of the participants indicated their willingness to pay more for sustainably sourced seafood that doesn’t come from industrial fishing. However, we’re still a long way from restoring the ocean ecosystem when sustainable aquaculture is not yet fully developed. There is an alternative that makes total preservation of life below water possible, and it is provided through Umami Meats’ single stem cell technology.
Umami Meats: Cultivating a sustainable seafood future without further endangering marine life
Umami Meats introduced seafood that is “cultivated, not caught” to the market as a truly sustainable option compared to wild-caught and farmed fish. Besides offering the same nutritional benefits as its traditional counterpart, their cell-cultured seafood allows marine life to prosper and the ocean ecosystem regenerated considering over 2 trillion fish are caught each year.
Umami Meats is now part of Plug and Play’s portfolio and has been providing a delicious culinary experience that is equivalent to consuming regular seafood since 2020. The company aims to reduce up to 95% of emissions generated by the transportation of live flown-in seafood and close to 60% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to aquaculture.
SDG Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Our planet has provided us with an abundance of natural resources that has almost completely been decimated as a result of increasing demand for resources. Possibly due to ignorance or negligence, we have not used them wisely and now consume much more than what the world can sustain.
The most alarming issue concerns the irresponsible production, use, and disposal of plastic. In the last three decades alone, plastic consumption has quadrupled to an unimaginable amount. The sad truth is, the more plastic is reused, the more toxic it becomes. This could be due to a number of factors, such as the breakdown of the plastic and the release of harmful chemicals, or the accumulation of toxins in the plastic over time. Most plastic also cannot be recycled and end up as waste in the sea and on land.
Many countries have attempted (and still do) to make this problem disappear by burning plastic waste, but this only adds more pollution to our already deteriorating ecosystem. The practice is highly problematic as it can release toxic chemicals and pollutants into the air, soil, and water, which can be harmful to human health and the environment.
Burning plastic can produce dioxins, furans, and other hazardous chemicals that can contribute to air pollution and have long-term effects on the health of people and animals. In addition, burning plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change. Despite these risks, some countries may continue to burn plastic due to a lack of alternative waste management methods or inadequate regulations and enforcement.
So, how can we use and produce in sustainable ways that will reverse the harm that we have inflicted on the planet?
Alterpacks: Transforming waste into 100% biodegradable packaging materials to combat plastic pollution and food waste crises
The only solution to ending the plastic pollution crisis is through the absolute reduction in plastic. Seeing that 139 million tons of single-use plastic waste were created in 2021, starting by eliminating the need for plastic packaging can help push us toward a zero-waste world.
It is important for governments and communities to work together to develop more sustainable and environmentally-friendly approaches to waste management, such as recycling and composting, in order to reduce the harmful impact of plastic waste on the planet.
This is where Alterpacks, a startup in Plug and Play’s portfolio, comes in. The company contributes to a circular economy by repurposing organic food waste to create a completely new packaging option. Unlike plastic, these food containers made from natural raw materials are 100% biodegradable.
What makes Alterpacks work is its initiative to upcycle food side streams that are readily available in Asia to meet local demand. Not only does the company promote the goal of responsible consumption and production, but they also tackle another concerning food waste problem which costs the global economy close to $940 billion each year.
Karen Cheah, Founder & CEO of Alterpacks states how the company is committed to fulfilling SDG Goal 12 by helping communities reduce plastic and food waste generation by 2030:
“The mission of Alterpacks was to use what was being thrown out to create food containers that would be a replacement for plastic disposables. What Alterpacks does is to provide new economic value to disposed of grains, then upcycle it back into the ecosystem for reuse…”
“Alterpacks is a new materials company with technology at its core. We started with creating containers by processing spent grains. This is just the beginning. With sufficient volume, we aim to get the price of our products to compete with plastics. This addresses 2 main areas of concern in packaging by businesses and consumers when it comes to green alternatives – price and performance.
SDG Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
Fossil fuels power roughly 80% of the world's economies and remains the most used energy source today. However, the risks of continuing down this path heavily outnumber the rewards; the burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions — the trend that shows no signs of slowing down in decades.
The transition to clean and renewable energy sources is one of the most significant challenges we face in the coming decades. While technological advancements have helped to lower the cost of clean energy, completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the next 30 years may be unrealistic.
This is not to say achieving net zero by 2050 is impossible. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science from Oxford, states we need to focus on disposing of carbon dioxide safely, either at the source or recaptured back into the atmosphere, which can be made possible through a process called carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Carbon Ridge: Capture and store carbon for an industry that causes one-fifth of the total carbon footprint
As of 2022, there are 30 commercial CCS facilities in operation and 164 more under development, currently capturing less than 1% of all annual global emissions. While it’s not nearly enough, these projects will have the capacity to capture a combined 244 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year once completed.
In an industry that is booming as much as maritime, there is urgent pressure to swiftly reduce greenhouse gases in the sector. One of our startups from the Maritime ecosystem, Carbon Ridge, develops carbon capture & storage solutions (CCS) for the Maritime industry, providing a low-cost and near-term solution to significantly reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases onboard large maritime vessels.
Apart from offering a non-disruptive solution, Carbon Ridge’s revolutionary system outperforms the traditional CCS columns with 75% less volume and through technology that is specifically designed to operate in a high-movement environment.
SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
While access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene is the most basic human need for health and well-being, one in three people still lives without clean water. It is estimated that by 2050, 5 billion people will be affected by water shortages.
This is not only an issue in third-world, underdeveloped countries. In the US alone, over 80% of waterways have been contaminated by PFAS, a class of 12,000 chemicals used in consumer and industrial products. The chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” as they do not break down naturally and can pile up in the environment, and worse, in our bodies.
Most people, especially in developed countries, tend to take water for granted. Although huge strides have been made to give people access to clean drinking water, the lack of sanitation and water contamination around the world are undermining these advances. While swift action is needed to eliminate.
KETOS: Offering clean water and sanitation for all by tackling water quality issues with artificial intelligence
Although we may not have control over the quality of water at the source, KETOS' IoT sensor solution can ensure that the end-users have access to water that meets safety standards.
KETOS’ mission is to solve challenges around water safety through a combination of data science and IoT to offer real-time water quality data through an automated 24/7 monitoring system. The platform also enables water quality issues to be identified before they arise, thanks to its predictive analytics reporting.
The now Series B-funded startup landed a place as one of Plug and Play’s portfolio companies and has been working towards providing intelligence on water quality and usage since 2015. Through its automated water monitoring solution, KETOS helps municipalities detect water quality and provide water supplies that are clean and uncontaminated without having to overhaul the existing infrastructure.
Plug and Play’s involvement in Sustainable Development Goals
In the past 4 years, Plug and Play has been at the forefront of sustainability with the aim of pushing forward innovations that help the world achieve Sustainable Development Goals. We are committed to tackling the world’s most challenging environmental, social, and economic issues by bringing together startups to bridge the innovation gap in the sustainability sector.
Since the sustainability vertical’s launch in October 2019, we have worked with over 30 corporate partners and invested in 30 portfolio companies across 8 international hubs around the globe to fulfill SDG goals. Together with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, we launched the “Clean4Change” movement which encouraged communities to work towards a cleaner environment. Working with our portfolio company, Litterati, helped participants track their progress in litter collection. As part of this campaign, over 1.4 million tonnes of litter was removed from the environment.
This is just the beginning. Plug and Play will continue to connect corporations to startups and accelerate these groundbreaking sustainable innovations until the world can meet its sustainable development goals by 2030 and beyond. Join our platform today.