Lack of collaboration hindering UK uptake of Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are increasing in prominence amongst UK businesses, although siloed working conditions are still impacting the ability for the private sector to deliver social and environmental change.

The 17 SDGs were introduced in September 2015 with an aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and justice and combat climate change by 2030

The 17 SDGs were introduced in September 2015 with an aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and justice and combat climate change by 2030

That is the overarching result of a survey of 500 HR leaders, across a variety of sectors, conducted by London-based talent development consultancy specialising in social impact Koreo. The survey found that the SDGs are now considered important to 47% of the respondents’ organisations, with 38% claiming that they form part of current business strategies.

Despite almost half of the respondents identifying the SDGs as a key aspect to company operations -although 17% of those surveyed admitted to not knowing what the Global Goals are – 29% revealed that a lack of joined-up thinking was hindering their organisation’s ability to embed them and deliver tangible results. Cross-sector collaboration was also seen as an opportunity failing to be capitalised on, with 70% seeking to collaborate but less than half offering any opportunities to do so.

“Social purpose and impact have a clear correlation to employee attraction, engagement and retention, and our research indicates an increasing sensitivity to this on the part of employers across sectors,” the report notes.

“But we are not making the most of this opportunity if we aren’t taking that same lesson into our approach to developing talent, because purpose has a powerful role to play there just as it does in work more generally.

“We see no reason to shy away from encouraging activism in employees. Whether in the social sector where that language is more familiar or not, activism is a clear sign of ambition to engage with an important issue. It is this type of attitude and energy that will stimulate change and innovation, and there is value in it.”

With the report highlighting that 90% of citizens feel that it is important for businesses to sign up to the SDGs, a third of respondents revealed that employees aren’t encouraged to think about delivering impact beyond their role and team.

This siloed working environment, which 66% of those surveyed felt had a negative impact on the company, is also failing to create networks for collaboration. Although more than half of respondents value cross-sector perspectives in order to innovate and ignite change, companies are failing to promote networking and collaborative opportunities for staff members.

Moving the global goalposts

The 17 SDGs were introduced in September 2015 – replacing the Millennium Development Goals - with an aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and justice and combat climate change by 2030.

But one year on, a study from global sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship has highlighted that most companies have failed to move beyond initial planning stages to build upon an increased business awareness of the SDGs in the past year. 

In the UK, an inquiry has been launched by the Environmental Audit Committee concerning the speed of implementation of the Goals, after concerns from the International Development Committee regarding a “worrying lack of engagement”.

While the majority of businesses have been slow to implement the goals, corporate giants such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Unilever have all mapped their sustainability targets against the goals that concern them the most.

Earlier this year, international brewing company SABMiller revealed annual cuts to key environmental footprints, after tweaking its "Prosper" sustainability initiative to align to the SDGs.

Matt Mace


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