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Marcelo Lu is president of BASF Canada

Far too often, Canadian businesses are unwilling to make the bold calls needed to support sustainable practices. The idea that a company should only act in its own self-interest, driving profits while ignoring social and environmental impacts, needs to be retired once and for all. Why? The easy answer is that it’s the right thing to do – but it’s also great for business. That’s why as president of BASF Canada, part of the largest chemical company in the world, I’m focused on the work we can do to accomplish the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The changes we need to make to improve life for everyone – 17 goals from eliminating poverty and investing in climate action to sustainable cities and responsible consumption – require strong leadership and action from Canadian business. The notion that this kind of work creates a cost burden ignores the positive impact innovation can have on our shared future and business success. The 2030 deadline to accomplish the UN Sustainable Development Goals is quickly approaching and the role Canadian business can play to get us there is critical.

The work we do at BASF offers us a unique lens on how the business community can dig in and work on these issues. Our people develop products to support sectors such as agriculture, automotive, construction, and energy. Our work is weaved into the supply chain and contributes to the home and personal care products that Canadians use every day. Our reach here at home and around the world is significant. We understand we should match that influence with the commitment to do our work sustainably.

However, we can’t do this work alone. On Friday, Sept. 7, the Global Compact Network Canada brought together leaders from government, NGOs and business in Toronto to discuss the action Canada’s private sector must take to build a more sustainable future for people here and around the world. Canada is the perfect country to play a key role in a sustainable global economy. We need to recognize the strength of our own businesses and take advantage of our diversity in backgrounds, skills and perspectives. The world trusts Canada to lead in this work.

As a business representative in the B7 – the business side of the G7 – BASF Canada contributes both with guidance and by example. The challenges we face together are real: poverty, income and gender inequality and growing climate change impacts. By 2050, it is projected that almost 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas in search of greater opportunities.

It’s easy to talk about goals, of course, but much more difficult to accomplish them. But the effort is worth it. Successful business means not only creating wealth, it means creating value. How? By constantly making the best use of available resources along the value chain. For us, the key is to understand the life cycle of products and their effects.

We invest heavily in research and development to identify innovative and sustainable solutions. This work won’t always drive profits. Sometimes it’s about doing the right thing, not the cheap thing. However, there is also important work happening to make sustainability profitable and solutions viable for all industries. Balancing these realities will ensure business takes real action.

BASF has more than 10,000 employees worldwide involved in research and development, 3,000 projects in the research pipeline and 800 new patents filed, making us the leading company on the Patent Assets Index. We call on all companies to screen their entire portfolio in order to understand which products have special benefits to the environment and society and therefore should be promoted, and which should be challenged. We have done so with our 60,000-plus products and continue to review them at regular intervals.

As a leading Canadian and international employer, we make an important positive social contribution to the economic development of the markets we operate in and provide meaningful work to our employees. We care for the environment by monitoring and adjusting our industrial production, continuously aiming to reduce air pollution, greenhouse gases and water consumption. Our products also help our customers across Canadian business save energy, water and prevent waste.

In Budget 2018, Ottawa said it would provide $49.4-million over 13 years to establish a unit to monitor and report on Sustainable Development Goal outcomes in Canada. This should help create alignment and focus on action. As partners, business and government can move the needle. For example, the current government is working with business on marine plastic litter and ocean preservation. Together, we’ll find a way to make our oceans healthy again.

To reach these goals, stronger leadership from the corporate level is needed to transform business in a way that benefits everyone. Time is of the essence. If we want to build a Canada, indeed a world, that is sustainable and focused on the future, business must take the action it can on the front lines of industry to ensure a positive outcome for all.