A single version of the truth: Business Reporting on the SDGs

26 September 2017

Do you remember where you were when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were ratified? I most definitely do – I was there along with Pope Francis, in the room, at the UN. I remember thinking this was going to change the game and that business involvement was going to be key. Two years on and a lot has changed in the world. And the sense that business contribution is essential to the achievement of the Goals has only gained momentum.

When the SDGs were ratified back in 2015, 71% of business leaders we surveyed were already planning to engage with the goals. This hasn’t wavered, with 75% of businesses participating in the UN Global Compact saying they are still planning to engage with the SDGs. The Responsible Business Trends Report 2017 also found that 60% of corporate respondents are taking it a step further and integrating the SDGs into strategy.

And if you still need convincing, you just need to look at the engagement with events like the SDG Business Forum (organised by the International Chamber of Commerce and the UN Global Compact to align with the UN High Level Political Forum) where an overwhelming 1500 registrations meant that they needed to move the event to the main UN General Assembly Hall, as it was the only room big enough to hold all the attendees. I think this says it all. 

The amount of business engagement is encouraging. But as business starts to communicate on the SDGs, one thing has become abundantly clear – with no single methodology for measuring and reporting their progress and impacts on the Goals, it is becoming a little haphazard and confusing.  How can we expect governments, investors and customers to make sense of such fragmented and inconsistent reporting?

Analysis adds clarity and reduces complexity

The SDGs have arguably added another level of complexity to sustainability reporting. But the benefit of using the same framework that 193 governments have agreed on creates an opportunity for comparison and alignment. So when the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, and GRI, the world’s leading organisation for sustainability reporting, set out to create a mechanism for reporting on the SDGs, we were delighted to be able to provide our strategic support and technical expertise.

I’ve been advocating for business to convey a single version of the truth for some time. Borrowing from the accounting version (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), I often refer to the need for a GASDGP (Generally Accepted SDG Principles). Until we have this, business will continue to report on different things, and leave stakeholders confused.  

Our ambition is to create one common language for business to report on the SDGs. The launch of the Analysis of Goals and Targets at the UNGC Leaders Summit last week represents the first step in this journey. It may only be a first step, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I’m proud to be supporting this project, which will encourage business to align with, measure and ultimately communicate its contribution to the SDGs.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply a check-box activity. If you’re going to report on your progress as a business, you’d better be making progress. The alternative is admitting that you’re hindering government efforts to achieve the goals. Is it therefore not reasonable to ask those corporates how their strategy aligns with the goals?  

The purpose of this Analysis is to make SDG reporting less complex, and I look forward to sharing the accompanying Practical Guide, which we hope will provide more clarity on how business can utilise the Analysis and thereby report on their alignment with the Goals. 

Malcolm Preston | Global Sustainability Leader
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