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“We can only achieve the SDGs if we work together”

September 19, 2017

Thorsten Pinkepank, Director Sustainability Relations, BASF SE.

Two years ago, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Since then BASF has been actively supporting the United Nations with the implementation of the SDGs. They form the framework for sustainable management at an economic, environmental and social level. Thorsten Pinkepank, Director Sustainability Relations at BASF SE, provided insights about what has happened in the last two years since the implementation of the SDGs has started.

The SDGs were officially adopted at the end of 2015 and thus replaced the UN’s Millennium Goals set in 2000. What is new about the 17 SDGs and how do they differ from the Millennium Goals?

Thorsten Pinkepank: The goals formulated in the SDGs were to be expected as some of the issues had already been addressed by the Millennium Goals. However, what is new and remarkable – especially when looking at the current status of global politics – is, that basically all nations managed to agree on what current problems have to be actively tackled and what needs to be improved for future generations. The universality of the goals is also new: unlike the Millennium Goals, the SDGs not only apply to emerging and developing countries, but to all countries. We at BASF welcome this improvement and highly appreciate that economic growth has now been identified as a necessary contribution to sustainable development. In addition, the UN Member States have backed the cooperation with many partners: aside from NGOs and politics, this time business and companies like BASF were also involved in the formulation of the goals.

The SDGs have been in effect for two years now. What progress has been made in this time and what is now perhaps different from “business as usual”?

Over the past two years, the SDGs have been established as a general international framework, despite some resistance and criticism in the beginning. By now, major global corporations have started to integrate the SDGs into their strategies. However, there is still a way to go until they become known across all industries and society at large, but we can already see that politicians have intensively discussed and picked up on them. There are certain topics which require further work and the SDGs have brought these to the fore. After only two years, it becomes obvious that these goals can only be achieved if everyone works together.

You are actively involved in many networks. What influence do the SDGs have here?

The Sustainable Development Goals are not only important for companies like BASF. Networks such as the UN Global Compact or CSR Europe have recognized their significance and use them as a framework for structure activities. The German government and the EU Commission have recognized the relevance of the SDGs and use them as a reference frame. This is underpinned by the fact that the German government uses the SDGs as a guiding theme for the German Sustainable Development Strategy.

What role does the private sector play in achieving the SDGs?

Simply said: business is crucial when it comes to achieving the goals. We need new innovations, processes and products to make a significant contribution to a sustainable future. Hunger, poverty, energy, water – these are key challenges requiring technical and business solutions in all countries. Companies have to focus and offer new products and innovations in their relevant fields of expertise.

At BASF, we contribute to the SDGs in many different ways. Besides product solutions, we also offer innovative business models in these areas I have just mentioned: for example, the idea behind our Starting Ventures Program is to provide people whose basic needs are not currently met with entrepreneurial solutions. That way they can increase their income and quality of life for themselves. One project in Africa is geared towards providing local people with a better supply of staple food. Most of the local food is covered in fungal spores which greatly increases the health risks to the population. BASF supports the local people by providing them with a simple food additive to increase the quality of the food and binds the fungal spores. In the same way, we support innovative ideas which deal with water treatment and the desalination of sea water to ensure a reliable source of potable water.

Can you provide us with an outlook on the future? Will the goals be met by 2030?

It is difficult to predict to which extent the Sustainable Development Goals will be fulfilled by 2030. Most likely topics addressed by the SDGs will never be fully completed. However, for the sustainable future of generations to come, we must actively address those issues in short, but also the long-term. One thing is clear: Sustainability is a journey that never ends. New challenges will always ask for new answers – and this really is a big endeavor.