Global Goals: Are citizens expecting too much from business?

The SDG’s are launched and the dust is settling. Expectations are high that business will be a driving force in helping governments achieve them. Certainly, the results from our PwC SDG Engagement Survey 2015, reinforce this.

Citizens aren’t expecting business to wait to be told what to do or to leave the SDGs for others to achieve (only 5% think this), they’re expecting great things. Our results show citizens expect business to apply SDG thinking to their core business activity, with less emphasis on peripheral projects or reporting. 50% expect business to embed the SDGs into its strategy and the way it does business. However, this is ahead of the ambition that business cited for themselves, and by a long way. Only 31% of business responders say they were currently planning to embed the SDGs in their strategy, and looking ahead this only rises to only 41% who thought they’d be doing it within 5 years.

It’s evident too that some citizens have higher expectations than others with Malaysia (68%) and the UK (68%) far more demanding than Japan (25%) that the SDGs are embedded. This could translate into a greater and more vocal demand for engagement and action in some countries more than others so business be warned!

What do we mean by embedding? It makes sense for any business to know how they contribute towards an SDG - whether their business activities have a positive impact or a negative one. Embedding the SDGs into strategy and business as usual is about making sure that the outcomes of business decisions are known and their impact on the SDGs factored in so that decision making is informed and as a result, hopefully, goal congruent. This is easier said than done. It needs investment in data collection and analysis, impact assessment, and internal reporting. But, although this investment will be a one off, the resulting transformation will be lasting. It will set business in a new direction that better maps business impact to its impact on society and the planet.

Will consumers grow impatient with businesses that don’t engage or don’t engage fast enough? This could be a distinct possibility. Firstly, tools seem thin on the ground with only 13% of businesses having identified what they need to be able to assess their impact. Worryingly, this only increases to 30% actually using the tools over the next five years. Secondly, only 29% are setting goals or even preparing to set them – again this is a concern as, in the business world, a lack of objectives and targets equates to a lack of accountability and commitment. Business will need to watch out that a lack of visible or communicated engagement doesn’t become a reputational issue.


Malcolm Preston | Global Sustainability Leader
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