Taking the SDGs to the next level for business

16 November 2017

Having just spent 10 months digging deeply into the various targets and disclosures that sit behind the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I can safely say that achieving the SDGs is going to take significant engagement and action from business.

Unlike governments, who will need to report on all 17 SDGs, businesses will prioritise the goals that are most relevant to them. At face value, many business leaders may think this is a relatively simple task.

But it’s about more than just picking a few colourful pictures which make a good marketing story.

The SDGs are complex, and interconnected. Each of the 17 Goals is made up of a series of targets – 169 in total – and  its only when you get down to target level that you can really get an understanding of how your business can start to tackle any given SDG.

Starting with your industry and areas of operation, it’s important to gain a better understanding of which goals are most relevant to your business, first at SDG level, and then drill down to target level.

Take Goal 1 (No Poverty) as an example. You might look at this and think that it’s primarily the responsibility of governments and public institutions. But target 1.2 (Halve the number of people living in poverty) is heavily influenced by the wages paid by businesses, themselves and throughout the value chain. So depending on where in the world you operate, this might actually be a very important target for your business to contribute to. Taking a good look at your value chain might very quickly pull Goal 1 up the priority list.  

Businesses that choose their SDG priorities without understanding their influence on the underlying targets, risk making superficial observations about their progress and contributions.

After the SDGs were unanimously agreed by all 193 Governments of the UN, it was clear that businesses needed a concrete translation of what the SDGs mean in a business context. That is why PwC has been supporting GRI and the UN Global Compact to create a mechanism for corporate reporting on the SDGs. The Analysis of Goals and Targets was launched at the UNGC Leaders’ Summit in New York in September 2017. It includes a list of illustrative business actions and disclosures for business to report on the SDGs and is based on the premise that actions drive reporting, which again drives action—and better SDG performance. The Analysis is a first step but also one giant leap on the journey towards a consistent framework for how businesses report on the SDGs.

Through this process I’ve discovered that there’s huge demand for consistency across how businesses report on the SDGs. We engaged heavily with numerous stakeholder groups, including the investment community and there was an overwhelming call for comparability across reporting to allow for investors to make sound decisions. Governments are also looking to business to contribute to the goals and will need an overview of how business contributions link with governments’ own efforts.  

We’re currently exploring how businesses across the world are reporting on the SDGs. Look out for the results, which will be launched in late November, followed by country ‘deep dives’ shortly after.

Our initial findings confirm that many leading companies are already looking at the goals and determining how to align with them. I applaud those efforts and encourage them to continue in their journey. And if you’re interested in exploring how your own business can prioritise the SDGs, embed them into strategy and report on progress then please get in touch.

Linda Midgley | Senior Manager, PwC Netherlands
Profile |  Email | +31 (0) 88 792 31 99