Middle-management ‘disconnected’ from Sustainable Development Goals, report finds

A "strong appetite" to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being hindered by a lack of engagement and understanding in mid-management and employees, a new report described as the "wake-up call to the importance of working together" found.

A study released this week (22 May) by Frost & Sullivan and GlobeScan on behalf of CSR Europe found that while the SDGs are being embraced by business leaders and sustainability professionals, a lack of collaboration with other areas of the business to stunting progress towards the goals.

“The SDGs provide not only a vision for the world but they also comprise a positive and feasible agenda for us to protect our people and our planet and secure a brighter future for this and the next generations. This is a message that businesses are beginning to internalise,” the European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans said.

“They increasingly understand that to thrive in a new, connected and globalised world, they must play a key role in the successful implementation of the SDGs. But it is not just the hard “business case” that is convincing more and more CEO’s to adapt their businesses and put them on sustainable footing. It is also a growing sense that as parents as citizens, they too want to contribute to a better world simply because it is the right thing to do.”

The report claims that awareness of SDGs remains limited to top management and those in sustainability functions, while middle-management and wider employees remain “disconnected from their narrative”.

In 2007, Frost & Sullivan’s annual survey of chief executives across the globe revealed that 69% of business leaders viewed investments into sustainability as a competitive advantage. In 2016, this figure has grown to more than 75%. The report urged companies to embrace the SDGs to generate new sales, customers and value propositions, while also establishing cost savings, improved environmental impacts, better talent acquisitions and a more motivated workforce.

The report views the SDGs as an “important catalyst for new business opportunities and multi-stakeholder collaborations”. However, a lack of stakeholder demand for action towards the goals, a limited understanding of how the SDGs relate to core business actions and a feeling that the goals are too complex are all limiting action.

Goal-shy Government

Ultimately, the report calls for companies to more deeply engage with middle-management and employees to raise awareness of the SDGs to unlock business benefits and innovation. Governments were also urged to accelerate support for businesses that commit to the SDGs.

The lack of Government support is evident in the UK, where the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) claimed that the Government has done little to promote public awareness of the goals.

That is despite research showing that the Goals could add $12trn to the global economy. the Better Business, Better World report, notes that $12trn and 380 million jobs could be generated by 2030 if the SDGs are placed at the heart of global economic strategies.

Awareness of the goals is also growing in the financial sector. Earlier this year, the World Bank issued its first ever set of green bonds that directly link financial returns to companies performing to the standards and aims on the SDGs.

Matt Mace

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