The WU Vienna Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility (STaR) hosted its first panel discussion at the WU Matters WU Talks public lecture series, titled “The UN Sustainable Development Goals: Why Should They be Your Business?” The event attracted a highly diverse audience of nearly 350 students, faculty and staff, business practitioners, locals and internationals. The issues tackled by the panelists concerned the ways in which SDGs can be embedded into different business models, the differences between the SDG framework and other means of fostering corporate responsibility, SDG communication, measuring SDG impact, and the thorny topic of “SDG-washing”.
Written by Milda Žilinskaitė, manager and senior scientist at WU STaR.
When we originally proposed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN 2030 Agenda as the topic for our event, we were not entirely sure how the evening would unfold. Although the SDG framework was set by the United Nations back in 2015, the EU’s polling agency Eurobarometer1 has shown that on the average, only one in ten EU citizens is familiar with it. Our own informal survey among 940 WU Vienna students in spring of 2019 revealed similar results. Roughly 11% of the students asked said they had heard of the SDGs, and fewer could name one or two aims of the 17 goals and their 169 targets.
As an academically-rooted sustainability center, we consider it our core responsibility to raise the SDG awareness on and beyond our university’s campus. The WU Matters WU Talks event was part of this ongoing effort. STaR Co-Director Günter K. Stahl gave an opening note on the opportunities that the SDGs create for companies. The innovation potential these goals offer also resurfaced in the panel discussion following the keynote address. The panel of experts (coincidentally, first time all-female panel at this public lecture series) included: Co-Director of STaR, ecological economist Sigrid Stagl; Director of Social Innovation at Deloitte Consulting Austria, Elisa Aichinger; Senior Advisor for Environment at OMV Austria, Brigitte Bichler; and the Founder and Managing Director of the virtual farmer’s market Markta, Theresa Imre.
The issues tackled by the panelists concerned the ways in which SDGs can be embedded into different business models, the differences between the SDG framework and other means of fostering corporate responsibility, SDG communication, measuring SDG impact, and the thorny topic of “SDG-washing”. There were, expectedly, differences in opinions and healthy disagreements. There were also many concrete best practice examples and useful recommendations. One question that we as the organizing team ask ourselves after each STaR Center event is whether (and if yes, to what extent) the discussion went beyond scratching the surface. Has it generated thinking, exploring and discovering? In this case, did our WU Matters matter?
Of course, we could not pin this down in numbers, but it did seem that the discussion could have continued for much longer than the allocated 45 minutes. The questions from the audience kept coming long after the panelists were off the stage, and of the nearly 350 attendees, many stayed around to continue informal discussions late into the evening. It is greatly rewarding to witness a sense of shared interest within a highly diverse audience of college students (as we learned, from at least four major universities in Vienna), faculty and staff, business practitioners, locals and internationals… Keeping in mind that the SDG17 is “Partnerships for Goals”, we at STaR hope that some of these conversations have created a positive momentum that will continue to propel into the future.
For more photos of the event, please visit this website.
*Special Eurobarometer 445. (2017). 27,929 individuals surveyed across 28 EU Member States. (Fieldwork: 11-12/2016)