Let’s make some New Year resolutions for the next 12 years – we’re wishing for improved business engagement with the SDGs
December 20, 2017

Over the last 20 years, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability (CRS) has shifted from a nice-to-have to a strategic business priority for very many businesses large and small. Following the Paris Agreement, the world saw a watershed moment and it seemed to act as a catalyst for many companies to look beyond their own walls, using their influence to pursue and advocate for global solutions around climate change and linked issues such as poverty, education, equality and human rights. As such the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) really should be showing us the way in 2018 and beyond as they offer a universally agreed framework for the global community and its different actors to tackle these challenges.

Though the SDGs were launched September 2015, many corporations are only just starting to incorporate these goals into their overall business plans and this would seem to be the reason for some of the surprising outcomes featured in the SDG Commitment Report 100 released earlier this year. For example, the study found that fewer than 25 percent of companies explicitly reference the SDGs in their reporting, but that a much higher percentage (for example 97 percent of companies in Europe) address issues related to the goals but without making reference to them. The report goes on to find that those companies making the link explicitly represent some of the most effective communicators on ESG issues, highlighting their interest to investors.

Then in the 2017 UN Global Compact Progress Report on the SDG, it was revealed that whilst many companies are finally beginning to align their sustainability strategies with the SDGs, more than one-third of the initiative’s participating 9,000 businesses have yet to set measurable targets and only 55 percent are tracking progress. The Report also showed that less than 30 percent of businesses regularly monitor the performance of their suppliers and subcontractors regarding the Ten Principles of UN Global Compact, and fewer than 10% systematically verify that remediation activities are implemented.

Whilst this is not the news CRS professionals want to hear, I think it’s important to remember that sustainable business is still a movement that’s gathering momentum, with two camps in situ: those who are trying to make sustainability part of their core business strategy, and those who still see it as an ‘add-on’. We have to make the case convincingly and we have to help companies see the opportunity – the SDGs provide that common framework to help us do that. Above all, they must become central to core business goals and investment decisions. What’s positive in our view from this year, is the increasing recognition from both the public and private sector that we have entered a new regulatory and economic landscape where meaningful environmental and social action is an (if not yet the) underlying imperative to financial success.

The use of the SDGs to align business strategy with a sustainable future should be part of every business’ New Year resolutions this year. And the good news? It could last for the next 12 years.

Diary Date: To discuss with other CRS professionals how best to engage with and leverage the UN Sustainable Development Goals, join us at a Simply Sustainable Round Table in London on 21 February, 2018, “Business Engagement with the UN Sustainable Development Goals”  To reserve you place, please email us at info@simply-sustainable.co.uk