Nearly three-quarters of organisations surveyed (72 percent) mention the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their annual corporate or sustainability reports — an increase of 10 percent on last year, according to a new study by PwC. But concrete measures and integration remain elusive for many as organisations struggle to identify actions beyond business-as-usual targets.
PwC’s study — From promise to reality — examines the corporate and sustainability reporting of over 700 listed companies across 21 countries and six sectors, to test on the integration of the SDGs into business strategy, planning and reporting.
Adopted in 2015, the SDGs encompass 17 goals and associated targets and indicators for success; providing a roadmap to help organisations navigate the major environmental, social and economic challenges the world faces. The study suggests that despite the SDGs being part of global business conversations for over three years, and a significant number of companies pledging commitment to the Goals, there remains a gap between companies’ expressed intentions and their ability to embed the SDGs into actual business strategy and report on it.
- 72 percent of companies in the study mention the SDGs; the majority (60 percent) in their sustainability reports, rather than in main financial or integrated reports.
- 50 percent of companies have identified priority SDGs.
- Only 28 percent disclose meaningful KPIs related to the Goals.
- Only 27 percent mention SDGs as part of their business strategy.
- Just 19 percent of CEO or Chair statements in annual reports mention the SDGs.
- The average score for reporting quality of those companies that had prioritised SDGs was 2.71 out of 5.
- The broad sectors of Technology, Media & Telecoms; and Energy, Utilities & Mining lead other industries examined on mentioning the SDGs in their reporting.
“Progress on broad awareness and integration is a positive step for the SDGs, but it’s only a small step,” said Louise Scott, Global Sustainable Development Goals Lead at PwC. “For every one of the 17 goals, there are pressing, real-world issues that directly impact the world of business. While there is a clear appetite for embracing the SDGs, many organisations still lack the strategy, tools and culture needed to transform those commitments into tangible business actions.”
There is no change in the most popular choices in this year’s study of the priority goals: Decent work and economic growth (SDG 8); Climate action (SDG 13); and Responsible consumption and production (SDG 12). In some cases, it appears that companies report on SDGs that correspond to existing activities and metrics they are already capturing.
Alan McGill, Global Sustainability Reporting & Assurance Leader at PwC, comments: “Success with the SDGs depends on making them a central part of business strategy. What is planned for, measured and reported in public filing is a good indicator of what is embedded in a businesses’ strategy and priorities. Invariably, that strategy is shaped at the very top of the organisation by CEOs and embedded with key performance indicators and reporting. The increase in companies indicating the SDGs challenge in their reporting is a positive sign of engagement that will increasingly need to be backed by strategies that look beyond business as usual at the opportunities being presented.”
Short films show business advantages of each SDG
Meanwhile, illustrating that very point are a new series of documentary films showcasing ways in which global businesses and organizations are embedding sustainability principles into their operations, and the business case for doing so. The films, created by Reuters in collaboration with The Business Debate and the UN, explore why sustainable business is better for companies (aside from the estimated $12 trillion in business value in store when we achieve the Goals) and society at large, and how economic development and prosperity can be achieved in a socially just and environmentally sustainable manner, in alignment with the SDGs.
To date, 23 films have been released, representing a range of sectors and technologies, including engineering, finance and banking, energy, food and beverage, plastics, cosmetics, transportation and education. The films often relate to more than one SDG, as indicated on the film series website. For example:
- Airbus, a UN Global Compact signatory since 2003, has committed to eight SDGs that are directly relevant to its business, including SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure);
- Monash University, through its Net Zero initiative, will become the first Australian university powered by 100 percent renewable energy with net-zero carbon emissions by 2030;
- Panasonic is taking a multi-pronged approach to the SDGs, as illustrated, for example, by its 100 Thousand Solar Lanterns Project — which is not only a key element to achieving No Poverty (SDG 1), it also targets Affordable and Clean Energy, Good Health and Well-Being, Quality Education and Gender Equality.
- Falcon Coffees aims to support sustainability in coffee supply chains, help create a blueprint for sustainable smallholder agriculture, and contribute to addressing the challenge of global food security;
- Procter & Gamble is focusing on four SDGs — including commitments to clean energy (SDG 7), and pursuing solutions for its packaging that prevent it from polluting the oceans (SDG 14).
- Carlsberg has also introduced a series of packaging innovations, Together Towards ZERO, as part of its sustainability programme to support the SDGs; and
- Lundin Petroleum aims to satisfy future energy demands in alignment with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The first films were released on October 10, and will be released each month until September 2019, along with 17 introductions (one for each Goal), featuring UN representatives, ambassadors and activists. Eleven such introductions are currently available, with messages from UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner on SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), UNFCCC Executive Director Patricia Espinosa on SDG 13 (climate action), actor Forest Whitaker on SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions); and UNICEF’s Jo Bourne, speaking about SDG 4 (quality education).