SDGs: ‘Glaring gap’ between business intentions and actions

As research suggests that many businesses are failing to follow through on commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new report has provided a blueprint for global firms to navigate the risks and opportunities reflected in the SDG agenda.

Delegates from 194 member states adopted the SDGs in September 2015. The agreement includes pledges to protect the world’s oceans, improve water management and the energy system, and take urgent action on climate change, with an overarching aim to ‘end poverty’.

Two years on from adoption, a UN Global Compact study has found that more than one-third of the 9,000 participating businesses still haven’t set any measurable targets, while only 55% are monitoring progress. The research also showed that just 29% have examined whether the policies they adopted have any effect outside of their own operations.

“The gap between intentions and action is glaring,” said the UN Global Compact’s SDG head of impact analysis Cecillie Hultmann.

The report showed that the level of engagement from chief executives has grown considerably, although this involvement has not yet translated further down into organisations. A lack of senior management involved was cited as a major barrier to organisational change.

This chimes with a separate report earlier this year which stressed that a “strong appetite” to address the SDGs is being hindered by a lack of engagement and understanding in mid-management and employees.

Supply chain sustainability has steadily improved but is still challenging, according to UN Global Compact, which found that less than 30% of participants say they regularly monitor the performance of suppliers.

SDG roadmap

In light of mounting evidence which suggests that businesses are still not aligning actions and intentions on the SDGs, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has endorsed a new report which outlines a roadmap for companies to navigate the risks and opportunities encapsulated in the SDG agenda.

The study, launched by data provider Earth Security Group, provides insight for the business community on how to align long-term growth to the specific demands for social inclusion and environmental security that are prevalent in the countries in which they operate.

Commenting on the report launch, WBCSD president Peter Bakker commented: “Earth Security Group’s emphasis of a systems-based approach to rethinking business models is commendable, with companies focussing on SDGs that are material to their growth and resilience.

“The work reinforces the fact that none of this can be accomplished alone by business or any group of stakeholders. Good governance, economic incentives, appropriate and robust legal and institutional framework conditions and public-private partnerships are essential.”

Accelerating finance

In related news, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has this week claimed that $3-5trn annual investment will be needed to finance the SDG agenda. In his opening remarks at the annual UN Private Sector Forum on Monday (18 September), Guterres emphasised the critical role of business to innovative new financial models.

He said: “This is now an objective that can only work if the whole of society engages. The role of the business community, the private sector, the financial sector is absolutely crucial. Without your leadership, our project will simply fail. Finance can make or break all our carefully laid plans.

“We have a blueprint for peace, prosperity and dignity for a healthy planet in the 2030 agenda and the 17 SDGs are our roadmap for inclusive, sustainable and fair globalization.”

George Ogleby

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