SDGs underpin ‘positive progress’ of corporate sustainability reporting

Nearly a third (30%) of world-leading companies are now implementing the framework into their sustainability and integrated reports, as the push to mainstream non-financial reporting continues to gain momentum.

That’s the key finding of a new report released this week by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and consultancy firm Radley Yeldar, which charts how 163 world-leading companies from more than 20 sectors across 35 countries have started communicating on the SDGs and integrating the Goals into their respective CSR strategies.

Fifty of the 163 WBCSD member companies surveyed now communicate SDG progress in their non-financing reports, with this figure “likely to increase year on year”, according to the report. Meanwhile, 10 of the 163 are now using the ‘SDG Compass’ to take action based on the SDG framework.

Sustainability success

Some companies are adopting the SDGs as a core aspect of their business development. WBCSD member SABMiller, for example, recently revealed how it has tweaked its ‘prosper’ sustainability initiative to better align it with the SDGs, leading to clear cuts in key environmental footprints.

“Mainstream non-financial reporting continues to gain momentum, and businesses that address sustainability challenges in their daily operations will be rewarded in the long run,” said WBCSD chief executive Peter Bakker. “Simply put, more sustainable companies will be more successful”.

The Reporting Matters 2016 report also suggests an overall improvement in the quality of sustainability reporting among big businesses.

Since 2013, WBCSD has assessed non-financial reports against a predefined set of criteria of a tried and tested methodology that is aligned with reporting frameworks, guidelines and requirements. Seventy-six percent of WBCSD member companies have improved their sustainability reporting performance compared with the 2013 baseline, with 40% improving their materiality disclosures, according to the report.

WBCSD singles out some members as “leading lights” for their production of high-quality sustainability reports. Consumer goods firm Unilever – which recently retained the top spot in Radley Yeldar’s Fit for Purpose Index – stands out for its raft of ambitious sustainability targets and commitments; Bank of America for its increasing sustainability-related activities and programs; and Dow Chemical Company for its overarching sustainability commitments detailed in its report.

‘Positive picture’

The report goes on to reveal that 42% of big businesses have recently made a “digital-first” with their sustainability reports, focusing on providing accessible and concise information through a page on the company website or through a designated sustainability ‘microsite’.

Consulting director at Radley Yeldar Ben Richards said: “The report paints a positive picture of corporate non-financial reporting. The findings also suggest we’re seeing more sophisticated digital approaches, with companies seeing the potential of digital platforms in helping to connect financial and non-financial information to tell one joined-up story.”

The WBCSD/Radley Yeldar report comes just days after a separate study from global sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship highlighted that most companies have failed to move beyond initial planning stages to build upon an increased business awareness of the SDGs, since the framework was launched by the UN last September.

“We have seen lots of announcements ‘recognising’ the Goals,” said Corporate Citizenship co-founder Mike Tuffrey.  “But what we haven’t yet seen is much evidence of companies taking to heart all 17 goals and asking searching questions internally about the changes needed to respond to the challenge they present – how we innovate, who we employ, what we sell, where we raise our finance, when to work with Governments and, ultimately, whether our business models are sustainable for a 2030 world.”

Luke Nicholls & Alex Baldwin

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