January 7, 2022
On Dec. 7, 2021, Barbara Guthrie, vice president of Corporate Sustainability at UL, participated in a discussion about the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The “Strategic Dialogue on the UN Sustainable Development Goals” webinar was hosted by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Guthrie was one of five panelists who discussed how organizations work toward the UN SDGs and how the IEC International Standards help them collaborate and contribute to the Global Goals.
As a Signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, UL is committed to progressing the SDGs and working for a safer, more secure and sustainable world. Learn more about the panel discussion, what sustainability means, how UL is working toward those goals and Guthrie’s reflections on the conversation.
IEC and the panel discussion
The IEC is a global, not-for-profit organization that prepares and publishes international standards for electrical, electronic and other related technologies. As a membership organization, the IEC helps connect more than 170 countries and coordinates 20,000 experts and their work. In addition to UL’s Guthrie, the panel included Virginie Gatin, executive vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at Legrand; Xavier Denoly, senior vice president of sustainable development at Schneider Electric; and Phillipe Metzger, general secretary and chief executive officer of IEC.
Known as an unbiased organization that drives standards, Guthrie said it’s refreshing to see the IEC actively involved in conversations about relevant and important topics like sustainability.
“Sustainability is gaining momentum and, with IEC involvement, it will gain more interest, particularly with conformity assessment players,” Guthrie said. She feels the IEC should do what they do best regarding sustainability standards. This means convening, discussing, challenging, approving and publishing global standards that take sustainability into account. According to Guthrie, these actions are necessary and important, as they would help organizations clearly measure, compare, articulate and recognize members’ collective impact toward sustainable development. She stated that mapping IEC standards to the relevant UN SDGs would demonstrate how efforts, tools and standards align with the UN SDGs. This exercise would help member companies meet their own sustainability goals.
Achieving SDGs through partnerships
A common thread throughout the discussion was viewing sustainability as a shared journey. Guthrie feels that partnerships are key to success. Partnerships are the theme of UN SDG 17, which aims to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”
When people, organizations, companies and governments collaborate, innovate and work together, they accelerate progress. Whether working with nonprofit organizations or other IEC member organizations, UL’s partnerships help progress UN SDG 17 while multiplying the impact of the other 16 goals. For example, UL has established partnerships with nonprofits like Safe Water Network, which brings clean, safe water to communities in India and Ghana, which aligns with UN SDG 6. UL also partners with Watts of Love, which provides safe, clean, renewable solar-powered lights to people worldwide who live without electricity and financial literacy training, progressing all 17 SDGs.
“Sustainability is a journey, a collective journey where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Guthrie said. “The impact of individuals is never too small; the collective impact we all contribute leads to a real, sustainable development.”
UL’s efforts toward the UN SDGs
Every person and organization has different resources and passions, Guthrie stated. Organizations do not need to focus on the same efforts to make an impact. They need to decide what is relevant to them and choose how to make the most significant difference.
“We’re a mission-driven company with safety, security and sustainability at our core. We utilize SDGs to help us prioritize, invest and drive our impact on sustainable development.” In addition to the partnerships noted earlier, Guthrie referenced how UL’s work contributes to the SDGs, including Zero Waste to Landfill certifications, EPEAT, Turbo Carbon™ and Renewable Energy Advisory services.
“Always make certain that your goals reflect who you are. What is relevant to UL, the makeup of UL, is what will make us successful,” Guthrie said.
Sustainability at the forefront of business
Denoly of Schneider Electric stated that sustainability can no longer be an afterthought, which is a sentiment the other panelists agreed on. This topic needs to be part of every business’ core, as we’re reaching a critical time to improve and heal the planet for future generations. Sustainability cannot be about being first to market or a company’s bottom line.
“No single organization, country, business or individual has ownership over this planet that we all inhabit. The responsibility for its prosperous and sustainable future and well-being of its inhabitants lies with all of us,” said Guthrie.
Panelists also discussed the recent UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow in late October through early November. Guthrie noted that the consensus among COP26 attendees that global warming is a real and pressing issue demonstrates progress.
Legrand’s Gatin stated that it is time for the private sector to step up with sustainability efforts. Without clear action items from governments, businesses need to take the lead on improving the environment and making lasting changes. Guthrie noted that the private sector has the means to do the leg work — applying their human, brand and financial capital. It makes sense for businesses to lead global environmental changes with that in mind.
“It will only be through our collective measurable actions, humanitarian behaviors and trust for one another that a safer, more secure and sustainable world will be realized,” Guthrie concluded.
If you’d like to learn more, watch the full panel discussion on the IEC website. You can learn more about UL’s environmental efforts on the Corporate Sustainability page. For more information on our commitment to the UN SDGs, read UL’s most recent Communication on Progress.