Picking up speed on the SDGs - I counted at least 30 government announcements in the last month

December 01, 2016

CEOs recognise the significance of a government agenda. According to our survey, 69% of CEOs say that governments and regulators have a high or very high impact on business strategy. So when it comes to the SDGs, it’s natural to assume that business will be keeping a watchful eye on government initiatives to achieve the 17 goals by 2030. With nearly half of business leaders believing governments have the primary responsibility for the SDGs (see Make it your business: Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals), what are governments doing and how might business align?

I’m beginning to see growing evidence of both governments and corporates getting serious about the SDGs. In advance of the next UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in 2017, 24 Member State governments have already announced their interest in presenting voluntary national reviews of their SDG implementation. Beyond these 24, many other countries are already taking the SDGs very seriously too e.g. in Asia, China recently released its national plan for implementing the SDGs and Vietnam has just published a national action plan. In Africa, Nigeria is using the @sdgsnigeria Twitter handle to popularise the SDGs, while in Europe, Prime Ministers from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden discussed in early November how the Nordic Region might cooperate in achieving the SDGs.

It’s great to see so many countries starting to plan their approach. But with time running out, we’re already one year in, significant challenges still lie ahead. A fundamental point to overcome is where the money will come from to pay for them. Can we really afford them all?, asked Bjorn Lomberg of the Copenhagen Consensus recently, pointing out that the OECD has estimated that meeting all 17 SDGs, which comprise 169 specific development targets, would cost $3.3-4.5 trillion every year.

Businesses, meanwhile, face their own challenges and opportunities. With the investment gap so high ($3tn annually across the SDGs over the next 15 years), private sector involvement is critical if countries are to succeed.  However, fewer than half of global companies are engaging with the goals at this stage, according to Ethical Corporation’s State of Responsible Business 2016 report, which surveyed sustainability professionals globally. Our own research found the appetite to engage (71% having started to action by September 2015) but lacking the tools to do so effectively (only 13% having identified the tools they need).

Meanwhile, another study, from Corporate Citizenship, found that a lack of tangible business action on the SDGs will cause a significant trust problem among consumers, particularly millennials. Findings show that despite 81% of millennials believing business has a key role to play in achieving the SDGs, the majority of corporates are not yet acting.

Still, there is good news out there: major corporates from the likes of Visa (tackling SDG1 by bringing financial services to the underserved), Kimberley-Clark (focusing on SDG6 by rallying employees and resources behind a large-scale multinational programme entitled “Toilets Change Lives”) and Siemens (addressing SDG11 by rewarding public-private coalitions for taking on sustainable development) are already starting to walk the talk on the SDGs.

But, there’s a “realm of difference between those who are trying to make sustainability part of their core business strategy and those who still see it as an ‘add-on’”, according to Lord Malloch-Brown, chairman of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission.

This isn’t about philanthropic activity; rather it’s about how businesses can generate profitable growth while also implementing the SDGs. Indeed, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2016, found that 80% of consumers are happy for businesses to increase profits at the same time as generating economic and social benefits, and the majority of CEOs say creating value for wider stakeholders drives profitability. It’s a green flag from consumers for business to align to the SDGs.

So, on a practical level, what might you do next? A good place to start is our new SDG Selector which helps identify the top five SDGs, looking at not only the top issues by country but also both the impact an industry has on each goal and the opportunity the SDG represents to that industry. The SDG Compass, suggests a four step approach (1) familiarising yourself with the SDGs, then (2) assessing the positive and negative, current and potential impact of the SDGs across your own value chains, then (3) setting goals to demonstrate your commitment to the SDGs (e.g. by embedding appropriate development targets across all functions within your business), before last but by no means least, (4) reporting and communicating on your progress.

I suspect government and business will work at their own pace but from a society and consumer perspective change can’t come soon enough.

As a reminder, the SDG Selector taps into the ground-breaking database model that is the PwC Business Navigator, which pulls together over 240 performance indicators drawn from numerous global databases to create a country score against each SDG. The SDG Selector also uses the results of the PwC SDG engagement research from ‘Make it your business’ to show how the business community perceive its impact and opportunity against each SDG.

Malcolm Preston | Global Sustainability Leader
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