PwC: Business still failing to turn SDG ambition into action

Just over a quarter (28%) of businesses have set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help them measure and disclose their positive contributions towards the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), despite repeated warnings that corporate action has been slow and weak.

That is a key conclusion of a new report from professional services giant PwC, which has revealed the results of a survey of 700 corporates on SDG action.

Published today (26 November), the firm’s SDG reporting challenge report shows that almost three-quarters (72%) of businesses have mentioned the Global Goals in their annual corporate or sustainability reports this year – a 10% increase since 2017.

Half of the companies, meanwhile, claimed they had identified “priority” SDGs – areas where their firm or sector could maximise their positive impact.

However, the report concludes that concrete measures for SDG action and integration remain “elusive” for the majority of businesses, with an inability to identify ambitious or long-term goals cited as a key barrier.

Specifically, it notes that only 27% of corporate survey respondents mention the SDGs as part of their business or sustainability strategy in annual reports, and that just 19% of chief executive or chair statements in annual reports mention the 17 Goals.

“The increase in companies indicating the SDGs challenge in their reporting is a positive sign of engagement that will increasingly need to be backed by strategies which look beyond business as usual at the opportunities being presented,” PwC’s global sustainability reporting and assurance lead Alan McGill said.

“Success with the SDGs depends on making them a central part of business strategy. What is planned for, measured and reported in public filing is a good indicator of what is embedded in a businesses’ strategy and priorities.”

Ambition or action?

The findings of the new report echo those made by PwC at the start of the year, when the firm surveyed 500 companies across 17 countries on similar issues.

In that survey, PwC found that most respondents were failing to explicitly make the connection between the 17 Goals and 169 targets, placing SDG logos into their reports as “lip service” rather than working to convert stakeholder aspiration into corporate action.

Similarly, sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship has warned that tangible plans and partnerships on the global goals have stalled, while the UN Global Compact has concluded that the private sector is failing to follow through on commitments.

The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development’s (UKSSD) claims that Britain is only performing well on 24% of targets considered relevant to the domestic delivery of the Goals. This finding has spurred the UK Government to launch its first review into business performance against the SDGs earlier this year.

“While there is a clear appetite for embracing the SDGs, many organisations still lack the strategy, tools and culture needed to transform those commitments into tangible business actions,” PwC’s global SDGs lead Louise Scott added.

“For every one of the 17 Goals, there are pressing real-world issues that directly impact the world of business.”

In partnership with consultancy firm Ditto Sustainability, edie recently published an SDG “blueprint” providing clear, practical steps that can be taken to embed the Global Goals in business strategies. You can download that document by clicking here.

Sarah George 

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