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Breakthroughs and Disruption in the Decade of Action

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emerged in 2015 from an urgent call to action by all nations in global partnership to create a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future” through the United Nations General Assembly. Ending poverty, forming strategies to improve health and education, reducing inequality, and preserving nature and biodiversity are all included in these Global Goals. While extraordinarily ambitious, the difficulty behind achieving said goals also emerged from the additional goal to see them reached by the year 2030. To those following the global progress so far, it should come as no surprise to read that clean technology has become fundamental for the implementation of each solution and is further developing into the cornerstone of similar sustainability frameworks in support of the 2030 agenda.

Within the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact, which list fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption, clean technology is just as needed for success. On Principle Nine: Environment, as defined in Agenda 21 of the Rio Declaration, clean technologies “should protect the environment, are less polluting, use all resources in a more sustainable manner, recycle more of their wastes and products, and handle residual wastes in a more acceptable manner than the technologies for which they were substitutes.” Clear upsides, such as the reduction of raw material used for increased resource efficiency, the emergence of new business opportunities via innovation, and even an increase in energy and cost efficiency, have been observed within companies utilizing cleantech. The economic and environmental impacts allow businesses to benefit across the long term and the planet as well.

The UN Global Compact Network Canada further explores these concepts within its webinar series, Raising Corporate Ambition for Environmental Sustainability: Canada’s Road to COP27, and particularly in the episode titled Climate Change & Technology: Shifting Mindsets towards Innovation Adoption. Canadian businesses champion clean technology in stunning ways elaborated by foremost experts, including Tom Chervinsky, Head of External Affairs and Social Capitalism, Public Policy Team at TELUS; Louis-Philippe Gagné, Manager of the Net-Zero Challenge at Environment and Climate Change Canada; Namit Nath Bhargava, Market Unit Lead of Canada Sustainability Services at Accenture; and Paige Whitehead, the CEO and Co-founder of Nyoka.

This session highlights prominent corporate, start-up, and government leaders’ efforts to accelerate technological innovation adoption. The Canadian federal government understands the value well, aiding companies in their pursuit of leveraging technology to accomplish climate objectives through the Strategic Innovation Fund, which allocates $200 million to innovative sectors like clean technology and bioscience. Public-private partnerships invest in innovative ideas and also provide education — a crucial prerequisite to technological innovation.

Many businesses find gaps in their knowledge and room for a stronger capacity to measure their impact. While grateful for the discussion, the UN Global Compact Network Canada also takes the conversation into action via programmes and events. These are geared to bring forward innovation, solve knowledge gaps, and equip its network to sufficiently tackle the SDGs. In particular, the SDG Innovator Accelerator is a 10-month virtual programme that has successfully activated future business leaders and change-makers to solve SDG challenges within their respective companies. Equipping young professionals with the knowledge, tools, and skills they need to translate their innovative ideas into tangible projects not only progresses their company’s sustainability objectives but also improves the market value of their companies.

Coming full circle to the aim for the SDGs to be solved by 2030, an emphasis must be placed on solutions that bring forward not only incremental change but also radical shifts in processes. We aren’t globally on track to fulfil the Global Goals with a business-as-usual approach, so within the UN Global Compact Network Canada’s programme structure and the broader UN network, there has been a growing interest in leveraging disruptive innovation and tech.

Disruptive technology displaces what is established and dramatically alters industries through ground-breaking products and services — even creating completely new industries. Past examples include the automobile, electricity service, television, or, more recently, e-commerce, online news sites, and ride-sharing. In theory, the new market and value networks formed behind these innovations enter the bottom of existing markets, eventually bringing forward displacement and change. Such technologies are already deployed to support democratized and decentralized access to energy and education, sensors to measure wildlife and alleviate overfishing, artificial intelligence to plan more efficient farms, and blockchain to improve financial privacy and security.

The possibilities are enormous, and we’re only beginning to explore the full impact of these enormous strides. The UN Global Compact has further webinars and reading materials available on the topic, such as the Thought Leadership Webinar: Realizing Decent Work Through Breakthrough Innovation – A Spotlight on Blockchain Technology, and further reading on the importance of disruptive tech within the field of sustainability is available in the 2030 Vision “Uniting to Deliver Technology for the Global Goals.”

19 March 2023

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