Published on 12 January 2019


SDGs: good intentions are not enough !

It's time for new year’s resolutions! For 2019, companies can already add to their list of good deeds, bridging the gap between their Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) engagements and their actual integration into the core company strategy. PWC's 2018 study, which references the trend in company engagement around SDGs globally, shows that the gap is widening between nominal engagement and strategic action, with companies at risk of "SDG washing".

Only 27% of companies say they integrate the SDGs into their business strategy.

Three years after their adoption, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become an integral part of the communications strategies of large companies worldwide. In 2018, 72% of the 729 companies spanning the 21 countries and 6 sectors analysed by PWC’s annual study (1), mention the SDGs in various documents intended to inform stakeholders. This is a 10-point jump compared to 2017. Among the preferred methods of communication include CSR reports, as well as annual reports, and to a lesser extent, integrated reporting.

This is a sign of company awareness in the wake of major global challenges identified by public and economic stakeholders in 2015, but substance remains to be seen. Upon further analysis of the various company publications, only 23% publish relevant SDG indicators and objectives. Only 27% of companies say they integrate these objectives into their business strategy.

"While the SDGs have been part of global business conversations for more than three years, and a significant number of companies are committed to meeting these goals, there is a gap between their good intentions and their ability to integrate the SDGs into their business strategy, " state the authors of the study. However, opportunities related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are estimated at more than $12 trillion annually, according to a study published in 2017 (2).

A superficial approach to the SDGs

Another shortcoming identified by PWC is that of measurement, and whether or not to identify KPIs (relevant indicators) or to follow the evolution of the company’s contribution to the SDGs. "As a result, [companies] are unable to demonstrate to investors, peers and their own employees how and why the SDGs help improve business, now and in the long-term," highlights the study.

Lastly, while the most mature companies are working, and with reason, to identify and prioritise SDGs that fit their strategy, they are often the same and are viewed superficially without going into detail on the concrete measures (targets) that have been identified by the United Nations as essential to be achieved. No matter the country or sector, the most popular SDGs are those related to decent work, the fight against climate change and responsible production.

These are logical decisions, but they demonstrate a narrow vision of the SDG scope and their business impacts. Among the most neglected SDGs by companies, are that of the protection of marine and coastal ecosystems despite 2018 having marked an awareness of public opinion to the extent of ocean pollution due to plastic waste.

Béatrice Heraud @beatriceheraud


(1)     The « SDG Reporting challenge 2018 » study is available here

(2)     Better world, better business



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