Investors step up pressure on Global Goals

Latest research shows companies are still falling short on the SDGs, while investors move to close the funding gap. That means 2019 is the year to ratchet up the corporate act.

As the year draws to a close, the clock is still ticking loudly towards the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – described as the closest thing the world has to a ‘strategy’. Following on from the UN Millennium Development Goals, they were ratified by 193 countries in September 2015 and have 17 goals, with 169 specific targets, covering every aspect of life on planet earth, together providing an ambitious agenda for a better world, all to be achieved by 2030.

I’ve been critical of the approach so far adopted by too many companies towards them. See ‘Let’s stop playing SDG bingo’  where I argued that simply mapping existing activity against the 17 goals to show a contribution is little more than ticking off each in turn and calling out ‘full house’. Companies should move on from this ‘pick-and-mix’ approach and show how the business is changing as a result of addressing the Goals, either in response to market trends and public policy stimulus or so as to increase the intended sustainability impact.

That said, I’m now seeing a slow up-tick in the number of companies who are going further and taking their SDG mapping back into the business with a change agenda. My test is whether they are re-engineering their own product or service portfolio to achieve greater impact or engaging with their partners across their value chain to do the same.

Listed businesses got a further nudge in that direction during October, when 70 stock exchanges around the world came together to issue a five point action plan to support the SDG process. This will strengthen moves to increase the quality and quantity of corporate disclosure on environmental and social performance data, clarify investor duties to integrate sustainability into their decision-making and extend board responsibilities on these factors. The stock exchanges see their role as helping facilitate investment in delivering the SDGs and building market capacity and expertise to do this.  See ‘How securities regulators can support the SDGs’.

Also in October the UN issued a toolbox of best practice and other initiatives to boost the private financing of the SDGs, all designed to close the $2.5 trillion gap each year in access to funding in developing countries alone. Partners involved in devising the tool box include HSBC and Aviva.

Meanwhile my colleagues in Corporate Citizenship have published our fourth annual study looking at how businesses are engaging with the SDGs.  Based on a survey of practitioners and analysing 240 large companies across five markets, it asks whether the Global Goals are delivering results for the bottom line. Without that, business engagement remains at the level of a voluntary contribution, not a virtuous and reinforcing cycle of benefit to business and humanity. See ‘SDGs: Materially impacting the bottom line’.

Our findings do show progress but also highlight how much further there is to go. While three quarters of the companies have done the initial mapping, only one in six have linked that to the issues that matter to the business, only one in five are measuring impact and only one in ten are adapting their products, services or business model to increase impact.

So there we are. The year is coming to a close, now just 11 more until the full suite of goals needs to be achieved. Business partnerships with governments and civil society are key to the delivery of this strategy for the world. Time to step up the pace.

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