This piece is the second entry in the Comprehensively Sustainable blog. The blog discusses sustainability-target-driven business and is founded primarily on the observations made in my dissertation Conducting sustainability target-driven business.
The universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that entered into force in 2016 are binding for poor and rich countries alike and require actions of all parties: governments, citizens and companies. The point of these goals and targets is to push global development onto a track that ensures, in an environmentally sustainable way, economic prosperity and social stability as well as people’s wellbeing and human rights . Many businesses have integrated sustainable development goals into their own sustainability targets . However, it may be difficult for an individual company to see global macro level goals in themselves as relevant for its business. Therefore, the question we pose is, how do we make sustainable development goals into principles that guide our own business?
System-level sustainable development goals should be primarily seen as those that guide the company, helping it carry out its business in a way that does not cause environmental, social, societal or economic harm to anyone or anything. Profit-oriented companies are, nevertheless, also motivated by the business-related benefits brought by the goals. A company in sustainable business studies the economic, social and ecological aspects in parallel, making their advancement a strategic target. Such a company understands the advancement of sustainability goals to form a business opportunity, and it assumes responsibility for its actions not only regarding its current interest groups but also future generations .
It may be difficult to see sustainable development goals in themselves as those that guide a company’s business operations, but, for example, Future-Fit Business Benchmark (FFBB)  provides concrete goals aligned with scientifically determined sustainability goals as well as SDG. A company should work in accordance with these goals in order for its operations to be sustainable from a systemic point of view. With these goals, a company is able to work to decrease its carbon footprint. In addition, FFBB suggests actions that any company can take to help others reach sustainability and thereby increase its own positive handprint.
If a company sets its sustainability targets in accordance with FFBB, it may rest assured that it is noting sustainability in a comprehensive manner. It is possible to reach some of the FFBB goals by altering company-internal processes and approaches, but some of them require a more extensive change. It is precisely these goals that require a more extensive change that the company should study with great care: this is exactly where the opportunity exists for innovation and new business.
As a concrete example, we may study targets that any company can set in order to help others become sustainable. First, the company should determine its own position in its operational environment, ecosystem and value network; what its interest groups are; and which sustainability challenges these interest groups are facing. After this, the company is able to study its own products, services and competences in a new light. If it is able to offer solutions – such as the reduction of emissions – to the sustainability challenges of its interest groups, the company may find new business opportunities opening up for it.
Figure 1 sketches how different strategic approaches to sustainability potentially impact a company’s value-creation possibilities. When strategic approaches shift from risk management toward change agency, the focus shifts from company-internal processes and in-house development to include the value network and external influencing opportunities. However, these approaches are not mutually exclusive. They can supplement one another and provide companies with new perspectives to their sustainability discourse.
Figure 1. Potential goals, impacts and value-creation possibilities of different sustainability strategies. Classification of strategic approaches based on Hellström and Parkkonen (2022).
If a company sets its sustainability targets in accordance with FFBB, it might obtain immediate cost savings rather easily through the improvement of its resource wisdom. However, when studying the value-creation process of its sustainability-target-oriented business, a company should, in addition to the direct economic benefits, also see the long-term indirect benefits. It may take time to build a sustainable brand, and the development of new, sustainable products may call upon capital. Sustainability-target-driven business should be seen as a long-term process that evolves continuously. Before long, the diminishing natural resources and the energy crisis will force companies to make changes. A company in sustainability-target-driven business anticipates also future sustainability challenges, it ensures its success in a changing operational environment, and it does its share promoting sustainable development.
When carrying out sustainability-target-oriented business, a company studies sustainability in a comprehensive way. It adopts scientifically specified sustainability targets and principles as the baseline for its operations in order to ensure that these operations do not cause environmental, social orsocietal harm. In addition, the company works, whenever possible, to solve sustainability challenges, helping its interest groups in its value network to decrease their negative impacts. The objective of this set of blog entries is to awaken companies so that they may consider their business in a new light, seeing sustainability challenges as opportunities for business development and growth.
Sources [in Finnish]:
 The UN Association of Finland (UNA Finland). Kestävän kehityksen tavoitteet. Available at https://www.ykliitto.fi/yk-teemat/kestavan-kehityksen-tavoitteet
 FIBS ry Yritysvastuututkimus 2021. Summary: https://www.fibsry.fi/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Yritysvastuu_2021_Tiivistelma%CC%88_FIBS_Final.pdf
 Eeva Hellström and Pinja Parkkonen 2022. Vastuullisuuden tulevaisuus. Miten vastuullisuus kohtaa kestävyyden ja vaikuttavuuden? Sitran selvityksiä 214. https://www.sitra.fi/julkaisut/vastuullisuuden-tulevaisuus/
 Future-Fit Business Benchmark. https://benchmark.futurefitbusiness.org/mg-be.html