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Yakup Beris, UNDP Serbia Resident Representative

Sustainability Makes a Good Business Case

UNDP brings together stakeholders from the private, public and civil sectors, as well as the scientific and creative communities, pooling their capacities, resources and knowledge

Together with the Government of Serbia, UNDP has developed the SDG Investor Map, as a tool that highlights business opportunities and the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of private investments.

Sustainability and social responsibility aren’t merely trends, but are also essential to the future of business. What potential and capacities does Serbia have in the field of sustainable business and sustainable investments?

Serbia’s growing economy possesses significant potential and capacities in the field of sustainable business and investments. The country continues to improve its position in the area of foreign direct investment, with a number of world-class companies as investors.

Furthermore, Serbia’s commitment to EU accession, combined with its favourable geographical position, export-oriented approach and free trade agreements, positions the country as an increasingly attractive destination for sustainable investments. What is important here is that sustainability makes a good case for business, and sustainable business and investment can provide significant support in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). What is good for business can be a force of good for sustainable development.

Which sustainability initiatives are you currently planning and implementing? What are your goals; who supports your efforts and with whom are you collaborating to achieve your objectives?

In order to achieve progress on the SDGs, it is essential to establish partnerships across all sectors of society. UNDP brings together stakeholders from the private, public and civil sectors, as well as the scientific and creative communities, pooling their capacities, resources and knowledge. One of the key results of our initiatives is the development of the SDG Investor Map. It was launched in Belgrade this June and later presented at the UN Headquarters in New York, but also at the International Trade and Investment Fair in Xiamen, China. Working with a team of experts, we identified key sustainable investment opportunities that are proven to be economically viable and aligned with Serbia’s development priorities, while also contributing to the achieving of the SDGs.

Serbia’s growing economy possesses significant potential and capacities in the field of sustainable business and investments

Within the scope of our support to SMEs, our current focus is on sustainable and green tourism. With UNDP’s assistance, and under the leadership of the Ministry of Tourism and Youth, Serbia became a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Adopting GSTC standards implies developing tourist destinations in a way that contributes to environmental protection, economic progress for SMEs in tourist destinations, and the promotion of authentic local experiences and traditions.

Within a broader initiative to implement the European Green Agenda in Serbia, we will also support innovative solutions for environmentally friendly agricultural production near protected areas, to help transform agricultural practices towards sustainable food systems, while simultaneously protecting the environment and biodiversity.

As you note, you developed the SDG Investor Map together with the Government of Serbia. What are its main benefits?

The SDG Investor Map is a tool that highlights business opportunities and the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of private investments. The map identifies five sectors with opportunities for sustainable investment in Serbia: food and beverages, renewable and alternative energy, infrastructure, technology and communications, and healthcare.

Thirteen identified “investment opportunity areas” within these five sectors could generate investments totalling more than $8 billion. With this map, we are showing investors that they can contribute to sustainable development while generating profits for themselves.

What is the importance of the ESG criteria in the context of sustainable business practices and how difficult is it to make a business profitable while also taking into account environmental protection, responsible business practices, people, and the local community?

ESG principles evolved from initial voluntary sustainable business practices to public policies and laws. The harmonising of business strategies with ESG criteria then became mandatory for a large number of companies, especially those operating on the EU market. How a company manages risk related to climate change and energy resources, what it does for the local community, how it promotes inclusivity in the workplace, how transparent its decision- making process is – answers to these and similar questions are provided by ESG criteria.

The implementation of ESG principles also facilitates access to international markets and inclusion in international supply chains

These responsible business practices are already having a significant impact on companies in Serbia that are striving to export to the EU market. This is why UNDP, in collaboration with the Development Agency of Serbia (RAS), organised training courses for manufacturing SMEs and export-oriented enterprises in an effort to help them learn to implement ESG criteria in their operations.

Is it true that the implementation of ESG criteria also creates new business opportunities, and that many investors and banks assess companies on the basis of this?

Yes, one of the key advantages is easier access to financing, because banks are increasingly analysing a company’s alignment with ESG practices as part of their overall risk assessment. The implementation of ESG principles also facilitates access to international markets and inclusion in international supply chains. In parallel, ESG practices have a positive impact on a company’s reputation and image, assisting it in attracting talented workers and acquiring new customers. Studies indicate that 75% of the members of Gen-Z prioritise a company’s sustainability over its brand, and Gen-Z workers will account for 27% of the global workforce in just two years.

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