What does Government’s SDG review mean for business?

The UK Government's Voluntary National Review (VNR) on the SDGs is a chance for the country to take stock and reflect on the opportunities and challenges it faces, but is also an ideal case for businesses to get on the front foot and drive sustainable development.

What does Government’s SDG review mean for business?

The UK recently published its first Voluntary National Review (VNR), exploring how the nation was performing against the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its sub-targets.

The VNR is a national review, and all of us who are engaged with the Goals in the UK should have had the chance to contribute to it. So it’s notable that aside from some case studies, the role and perspective of stakeholders is largely absent in the review. Though it’s not that unsurprising given the limited and selective engagement process.

Why business should have had a say

Given the breadth of the Goals and the complex systems they reflect, finding single solutions won’t be easy. Reaching out to the organisations in our network is important if we’re to navigate the sticky issues that need to be addressed. Creating a meaningful two-way dialogue and a space to share knowledge and solutions is the first step in creating collaborative action.

Many businesses are already taking leadership on the Goals and given our expertise the Government should want to work with us.

A formal mechanism for engagement 

It does finally seem that the Government has recognised the need to improve on this as it commits to a mechanism for stakeholder engagement and cooperation in the review. As UKSSD exists to bring organisations together to accelerate progress on the SDGs in the UK, this is something our partners welcome.

The function and format of this mechanism is unclear but it’s a positive step forward from a government which has been conspicuously quiet about the Goals.

What does the review mean for your business?

Beyond providing the opportunity to take part in this formal mechanism for stakeholder engagement, the review itself doesn’t directly impact business in any way. It contains no new policy commitments and simply uses data and existing policy to take stock of the current context. It does identify challenges and areas for further work but at a high level, rather than specific actions that will be taken.

Despite this, the Government does commit to ‘review and strengthen the existing means and mechanisms to oversee its contribution to the domestic delivery of the Goals’ and to refine the performance framework that will be used to report on government activity related to the Goals.

This suggests that the Goals should become more integrated into Single Departmental Plans – the corporate strategies government departments use to set out their priorities. These plans will ultimately lead to future policy changes, and we should expect (or demand) that policies develop in line with the Goals.

The Goals are an opportunity to get on the front foot

If you take bold steps now to put the Goals at the heart of your business, future policy development is not going to come as a shock. It also means that together we can use your leadership on this agenda as evidence for the Government to go further to create a socially just, economically and environmentally resilient future.  

This time last year we published Measuring up, UKSSD’s review of how the UK is performing on the Goals. We reported then that the UK was on track with just 24% of the targets. The VNR doesn’t go this far in its analysis. But when comparing our assessment with the review, I still think we’ve presented a politically balanced picture of the UK in a way the review doesn’t. And that’s down to the diversity and calibre of the organisations that contributed to it.

We said then that businesses, charities and local governments need to step up to address the challenges we face. I’d say the same again, only now the VNR has given us a window of opportunity to use our voice to ask the Government to do more too.

Emily Auckland is Network Director at UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development

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