Survey: UK businesses poised to deliver on the SDGs

Three-quarters of British firms believe they have a role to play in furthering national and international progress against the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new survey has found.

The Global Goals were launched in 2015 and have received the support of more than 10,000 companies to date.

The Global Goals were launched in 2015 and have received the support of more than 10,000 companies to date.

Conducted by HSBC, the survey asked 9,100 businesses of all sizes and sectors – including 1,000 UK-based firms – for their views on sustainability.

Of the ten nations analysed, the feeling that the delivery of meaningful progress against the SDG agenda is important and possible for businesses was strongest in the UK. Almost four in ten (38%) of the firms to respond to the survey said they have a “significant” role to play in SDG delivery, with a further 37% saying they had “some” role to play.

This sentiment was considerably stronger than the global averages (35% and 38% respectively) and the average across Europe (17% and 53%). Indeed, UK Plc’s closest European competitors were businesses in Spain and the Netherlands – both markets in which 17% of businesses said they have a “significant” role to play and a further 41% said they have “some” role to play.

It’s encouraging to see that UK businesses are showing leadership to become more sustainable and make a long-term difference to their customers, employees and the local communities in which they operate,” HSBC’s head of sustainable finance Rob King said.

“We are increasingly seeing businesses incorporate sustainability goals into their strategic objectives and business models as they strive to make change in the future.”

Nonetheless, the survey also found that businesses in the UK and beyond are, broadly, struggling to turn their environmental and social ambitions into action. The most commonly cited frustrations were barriers to financing change (35%); freeing up resources to implement key projects (31%); and confusion over the sheer volume of ESG measurement criteria available (26%).

With regards to the SDGs specifically,  recent research by KPMG found that companies are still struggling to achieve boardroom buy-in for action on the SDGs due to a lack of available metrics for tracking progress against their aims.

Similarly, PwC has found that two-fifths of businesses are still failing to engage meaningfully with the SDGs, while the UN Global Compact has concluded that the private sector is failing to follow through on commitments.

And while the business appetite for SDG alignment may be sizeable in the UK, the converse has been found within the policy sphere. Of the 143 targets considered relevant to the domestic delivery of the SDGs, a  UKSSD report notes that the UK is only performing well on 24% of its targets. Policy gaps or inadequate performance were listed alongside 57% of the targets, while 15% had “little to no policy in place” to address them.

However, the Government has launched its first voluntary review into how the nation's business community is contributing to the SDGs and the EU is urging member states to place the Global Goals framework at the heart of their national and international environmental and economic strategies.

Sarah George



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