Corporate Innovation On The Road To The SDGs

The evolution of the corporate world and the steady rise in consumption patterns of customers around the world has made some corporate entities extremely affluent and powerful over time, with multi-billion dollar companies now no longer a pipe dream. However, the fact remains that many of these companies did build their wealth out of exploiting people and the planet, and even otherwise, it is now the responsibility of both individuals and companies to make use of their wealth and bring about some changes in their business models and technologies to contribute to saving the planet. Companies have constantly advertised half-hearted attempts at corporate social responsibility and sustainable business which haven’t much in the long run. This is not enough anymore, in a world where the environment and quality of life is declining at much faster rates than predicted. It is now necessary for corporate entities to invest in deep innovation in the direction of achieving the SDGs. 

SDG achievement must be an integral part of all firm’s innovation plans, not as a formality but a necessity. Firms must choose a nested-systems approach to achieving the SDGs by choosing a constellation of SDGs to keep in mind. SDG 9 deals with building resilient infrastructure and promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and is thus relevant to the topic, but is not isolated in its connection – all SDGs are interlinked, and keeping multiple SDGs in mind while taking business decisions will make it much easier to achieve multiple at once due to the interlinkages. 

Social innovators’ ecological and economic decisions should coincide with ecosystem boundaries. Using natural resources efficiently within the system in regenerative loops is both profitable and better for the environment, on which all business is dependent. This ties in directly with SDG 12, which advocates responsible consumption and production, and is certainly an area with a lot of scope for scientific innovation. Companies have made some progress on this front – Accenture has succeeded to an extent in reducing its environmental footprint and fostering sustainable growth, particularly with regard to carbon emissions – reducing 52% in CO2 emissions per employee. Among Accenture’s top priorities are its reuse and recycling efforts – including the management of e-waste and water.

Intellectual property law also plays a big role in stimulating corporate innovation and ensuring the dissemination of its benefits to the general public, since new technologies, ideas, etc. which promote sustainability are frequently registered as intellectual property rights by organizations. The granting of IP rights gives companies certain economic and moral benefits for their innovations and designs which can help foster further innovation. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the specialised agency of the UN dealing with international intellectual property law, contributes to the SDGs by providing concrete services to its member states, enabling them to use the intellectual property (IP) system to drive the innovation, competitiveness and creativity needed to achieve these goals. WIPO’s Inventor Assistance Program (IAP) helps foster innovation and reduce inequalities by making the patent system more accessible to inventors and small businesses in developing countries. 

In the context of IP law and sustainable development, the concept of compulsory licensing (CL) has been very controversial. Proponents of CL argue that compulsory licensing will ensure the trickling down of beneficial technology to multiple manufacturers, thus making the beneficial product cheaper and also allowing the improvement of the existing process (which would have otherwise remained fairly unknown) by third parties and fostering innovation. However, many others believe that compulsory licensing will stifle innovation by deterring investors from investing in hopeful research, opting to put their investments in other economic fields. It is thus important for a balance to be struck between innovation and compulsory licensing.

In the context of IP law and sustainable development, the concept of compulsory licensing (CL) has been very controversial. Proponents of CL argue that compulsory licensing will ensure the trickling down of beneficial technology to multiple manufacturers, thus making the beneficial product cheaper and also allowing the improvement of the existing process (which would have otherwise remained fairly unknown) by third parties and fostering innovation. However, many others believe that compulsory licensing will stifle innovation by deterring investors from investing in hopeful research, opting to put their investments in other economic fields. It is thus important for a balance to be struck between innovation and compulsory licensing.

Corporate firms are major drivers of innovation in all sectors, due to their vast manpower and economic resources. They also have the power of vast reach, with their products reaching markets all over the world and their production and corporate locations strewn across different countries. It is thus very important for them to stand up and do their part in making the world a more sustainable place, and to stand in conjunction with other stakeholders, because the problems that stand to destroy the world today – the problems which the SDGs attempt to solve – are ones that affect all stakeholders, from the biggest firms to the poorest consumers. 

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