Do businesses still care about the Sustainable Development Goals?
More than half of businesses believe that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) act as an important framework to help elevate sustainability strategies, but only four in 10 have actually examined the Goals at a sub-target level.
Since they were created in 2015, more than 10,000 companies, most national governments and thousands of investors have pledged to support the SDGs in some way.
Now, concerns persist that the SDGs, despite encompassing every part of the global economy thematically, are dropping down both the corporate and political agenda as a result of disruptive issues that are pressing society and the economy, including the ongoing war in Ukraine which has caused additional ripple effects in the form of skyrocketing gas prices.
The UN’s latest annual report tracking progress towards each of the 17 Goals, published in July 2023, found that the world is “woefully” unprepared to deliver the SDGs by 2030.
To gauge an understanding of how tuned-in to the SDGs sustainability professionals are, edie ran a survey earlier in the year in order to gain insight into how corporates were approaching the Global Goals and whether they could be delivered as part of a Just Transition.
The survey ran for one month in August 2023 and garnered responses from 100 corporate representatives. Respondents worked for a range of different-sized organisations across all sectors of the UK economy.
The survey found that 77% of sustainability professionals believe their organisation was aligned with “some of the goals”, while just 17% claimed to be aligned with all 17 SDGs. Only 5% said their organisation had “no alignment” with the Global Goals.
Less than half (42%) claimed that their organisation had analysed progress at an overarching Goal level (for example Goal 13: Climate Action. 27% of respondents said they were analysing the Goals at a sub-target level. The same number of respondents (27%) stated that they hadn’t analysed progress against targets at all.
Indeed, Goals 13: Climate Action proved to be the most common goal that businesses were aligned to. That Goal was reported against by 76% of businesses. Aside from climate action, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth (58%), SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production (53%), SDG 5: Gender Equality (53%) and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities (37%) round up the top five.
The survey also found that more than half of businesses (53%) believe that the SDGs are “very important” as a tool to help advance sustainability strategies, compared to just 3% who claim they are “not at all important”. Just under half (45%) claimed that delivering bespoke plans against the SDGs was very important in “meeting customer expectations”, while 41% claimed that they helped deliver reputational gains as well.
The two biggest challenges cited by corporate respondents to edie’s SDG survey were the “disconnect between some SDGs and business purpose” (21%), the lack of standardised SDG performance indicators (19%) and a general lack of understanding and awareness of the Goals (16%).
The 2023 SDG Business Blueprint: How to take action on the Global Goals
Delivered as part of edie’s SDG Week, the SDG Business Blueprint report explores whether businesses are prioritising, or de-prioritising, the SDGs as part of their corporate sustainability strategies.
It features a foreword from Steve Kenzie, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network, calling on nations and corporates to re-evaluate their relationships with the Goals in order to catalyse action. Additionally, Chinyelu (Chi) Oranefo, Director, Sustainability & ESG Finance Lloyds Bank, Corporate and Institutional Banking (who partnered with edie in producing this report) provides an insightful viewpoint on how the SDGs align with ongoing efforts to deliver a Just Transition.
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