Sustainable Development Goals: what's the role for business?
Leading businesses are engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to focus their environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts. This helps ensure that they continue to play a part in building a more resilient world through economic growth and opportunity while also addressing social and environmental need.
M&S and Unilever are just some of the companies that have made positive momentum in addressing the goals – but just what does aligning your company’s activities to the SDGs mean? And how can we ensure that this does not just become another branding exercise and actually contributes to change?
What are SDGs?
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, took the helm at the recent Stern Review by saying that “Every annual report [should] talk about the contributions that these companies make to fulfilling the sustainable development goals.” But this is very much end-game territory, so where do you begin? In September 2015, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals – 17 goals that are underlined by 169 targets to be met by 2030. The mission – to “end poverty”, “protect the planet” and ensure “prosperity for all”. The case could not be clearer: sustainable development means a better life for many. Funding such ambitions will obviously be challenging, so businesses and the private sector will have an essential role to play to ensure success.
Why use them?
Despite the awareness of SDGs (studies have shown that 81% of millennials believe business has a key role to play in achieving them), most businesses have not yet begun to work on or even plan their approach – perhaps because it seems daunting. Additionally, to avoid confusion about quantifying impact, companies will need to provide evidence of their activities in order to ensure that they aren’t being seen as merely completing a tick-box exercise.
Some might feel that it is too early for the SDGs to be incorporated into their ESG approach, but with companies already committing to longer-term and more ambitious carbon reduction targets stretching beyond 2030, there is no reason that groundwork can’t be made to integrate the goals into wider ESG strategies.
Where do we go from here?
Companies need to look at which of the goals reflect their values, understand the ways in which others are currently using them to develop their sustainability and corporate responsibility strategies and identify how they can make the most difference. The Coca-Cola Company is a prime example of leaders in the area, having mapped each of the Global Goals to their various business programs.
The result is a common language for businesses that enables buy-in from various stakeholders. What you have in front of you is, in effect, the framework for a materiality screening that will broaden the scope of your non-financial reporting and allow for a better understanding of your sustainability issues. Many may also choose to run a gap analysis around the goals in order to identify where they are at present. Finally, with 12 out of the 17 goals explicitly mentioning climate change, there is a great opportunity for increased communication and innovative reporting between environment, sustainability and CSR teams.