SDGs: Just 39% of businesses think they are taking enough action, UN survey finds

Conducted by the UN Global Compact (UNGC) in partnership with DNV GL, the survey asked representatives from the sustainability teams or C-suite of 615 businesses what their organisations were doing to drive progress towards achieving the SDGs. All respondents hailed from organisations which are members of the Compact, of which there are now more than 10,000, meaning they had already voiced their support for the SDGs.

Less than one-third said their sector is moving rapidly enough to deliver adequate progress against the SDGs which it should be framing as a priority, with almost two-thirds (61%) believing that the targets set by their own business are ambitious enough.

And, despite an uptick in SDGs being mentioned in sustainability strategies and reporting – 84% of respondents said their organisation had made this step – a marked gap between talk and action was uncovered by the survey. Less than half of respondents (46%) said that considerations around the Global Goals were embedded across all business departments and in key strategic decisions. As such, most firms are at risk of making decisions and either implementing or continuing processes that hamper progress on issues such as climate change, clean energy access and social inequality.

Additionally, less than one in four respondents said their organisation is actively designing or implementing business models that contribute to the SDGs, and less than one in two said their business required suppliers to adhere to the UNGC’s Ten Principles or to demonstrate their own support for the SDGs.

While improvements were noted in areas such as measuring and reporting SDG-related progress, setting science-based climate targets and conducting environmental impact assessments, the findings broadly echo trends uncovered in UNGC and DNV GL’s 2018 research.  

These trends have also been recorded in research by bodies such as PwC and UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, with the general consensus being that businesses are better at voicing their support for the SDGs than meaningfully engaging with the framework.

Building back better

UNGC argued that while many businesses may feel that social and economic fallout of the Covid-19 crisis will hamper their sustainable development progress, they must ultimately seize the moment to increase their ambition, given that the pandemic has highlighted social and environmental issues and could ultimately exacerbate them.

“Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of a global market that has allowed social inequalities to widen for two-thirds of the global population,” UNGC chief executive Lise Kingo said.

“With many other crises looming large, from climate change, biodiversity loss and the erosion of planetary resources, let’s use Covid-19 as our wake-up call to put the world on track to create the world we all want.”

In recent months, national governments and large businesses have received a string of missives urging them to implement measures that will deliver a green and just recovery from the impending recession, tackling rising unemployment and falling GDP with measures that also deliver net benefits for communities and the environment.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK’s recovery package will be designed around existing international frameworks, including the Paris Agreement and SDGs. He is facing calls to firm up this commitment ahead of the publication of the plan, due before the end of June, as the UK was found to be making inadequate progress across 57% of the SDG agenda, and poor progress across a further 15% in 2018.

Sarah George

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