PwC: Businesses still not meaningfully engaging with SDGs

Up to two-fifths of businesses are still failing to engage meaningfully with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to new research from PwC.

The priorities of citizens and businesses are often misaligned, the report warns

The priorities of citizens and businesses are often misaligned, the report warns

This figure will need to rise if the goals are to effect real change in poverty, inequality and tackle change by 2030, PwC insists.

Based on analysis of almost 500 businesses in 17 countries, the report shows that while most firms include SDGs in their corporate reporting, in many cases this merely amounts to “lip service” which fails to convert stakeholder aspiration into corporate action.

PwC’s sustainability and climate change director Louise Scott explained: “Take SDG 13 ‘Climate Action,’ for example - a favourite goal for the majority of UK businesses.

“You might assume it’s one of the top-rated priorities because of the high-profile nature of climate change.

“But we think a more likely explanation is that most organisations already have mechanisms in place to measure greenhouse gases due to regulatory obligations, making it a relatively simple goal to respond to.”

Making the connection

The study stresses the need for businesses to explicitly make the connection between the 17 goals and 169 targets. Failure to do so could impede a company’s ability to report effectively, PwC claims, and leave stakeholders struggling to make positive judgements on the strategy and purpose of the business.

“Businesses need to better understand the interconnections between some of the SDGs,” PwC UK sustainability reporting partner Alan McGill said.

“This could prove not only beneficial to their brand and bottom line but also their ability to expand and respond to more of the 169 targets than they may have thought possible. This insight requires a more robust and sophisticated level of reporting on the SDGs than currently exists.”

Brand reputation

The priorities of citizens and businesses are often misaligned, the report claims. For instance, the top three business goals in the UK are SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 13 (climate action), whereas the public focus is on SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (health and wellbeing) and SDG 1 (no poverty).

This could pose an issue for those businesses wanting to strengthen their brand and reputation with consumers, the research warns. Consequently, it call upon companies to address the biggest issues such as a company’s place in the world, its contribution to society and the inherent negative impacts in its business model.

This is the latest in a long line of reports warning that businesses are failing to take sufficient action on the SDGs. While awareness of the SDGs has grown, sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship has warned that tangible plans and partnerships on the global goals has stalled.

This is backed up by a recent UN Global Compact study which found that more than one-third of the 9,000 participating businesses still haven’t set any measurable targets two years on from the launch of the goals, while only 55% are monitoring progress. 

Some experts have stressed that a "strong appetite" to address the within some companies is being hindered by a lack of engagement and understanding in mid-management and employees.


PwC at the edie Sustainability Leaders Forum

PwC's director of global sustainability Louise Scott is one of the expert speakers that will appear on stage at edie's Sustainability Leaders Forum in January 2018.

Taking place on 24-25 January, the Sustainability Leaders Forum will bring together more than 600 ambitious professionals moving beyond environmental objectives to deliver transformational change and create brand value every year.

The two-day event, which runs alongside the Sustainability Leaders Awards, will feature interactive workshops and enhanced networking to give you the most comprehensive and immersive experience on the day. For more information and to book your place at the Forum, click here.

George Ogleby


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Sustainability reporting | sustainable development

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CSR & ethics
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