Why was 2019 a critical year?

2019 was a year filled with corporate target setting and climate emergency declarations from countries and cities across the globe, with 72% of companies now mentioning the SDGs in their annual corporate or sustainability report.

Prominent meetings and major reports significantly raised the profile of the SDGs throughout the year. Countries from around the world reached the end of in-depth discussions on each of the 17 SDGs at the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), and the first UN SDG Summit since the launch of the Goals reviewed global progress with heads of state and governments. There was also a collaborative report released by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) showing that almost all of the EU member states were failing to produce enough progress to reach the UN’s 2030 deadline.

2019 was an important year for reviewing progress, but it also saw enhanced scrutiny and growing stakeholder pressure for business and governments to act faster and scale up responses.

What needs to happen in 2020?

2020 has already seen a collective realisation of the magnitude of activity needed to reach the SDGs. In the UK, big businesses including Nando’s and Nestle have partnered with the RSPB and WWF to produce an action plan for government. The group are asking the government to create structures and processes which will enable and encourage the UK to meet its SDG targets.

In order to lead the way, companies need to be setting ambitious goals as well as integrating sustainability into the core business strategy and embedding targets across functions.

Last week, accounting bodies and disclosure experts called for new consistent standards for companies to report how their business activities impact progress towards the SDGs. The aim being that improved, consistent disclosure helps to drive business action in support of the goals. They state that a shift is needed from companies reporting their action to progress certain goals towards disclosing how all their business activities impact the SDGs.

Research by WBCSD has shown that SDGs 13, 12 and 8 (Climate Action, Responsible Consumption and Production and Decent Work and Economic Growth) are the most common priority goals for business, with 61% of businesses identifying Climate Action as a priority. However, the UN declares that the “17 Goals are all interconnected”, and therefore companies should take a value chain approach to help ensure they are considering all the goals that are relevant to their business.

The business case for the SDGs

Peter Bakker President and CEO of WBCSD says, “business is under intense scrutiny. It must show it is ready to lead the transformation of economic systems that is needed if it is to keep its license to operate. Demand for integrated solutions to the challenges will only grow louder, be they from shareholders, regulators, consumers or wider society.”

There is a strong sentiment that businesses need to go further but there is also great value in doing so. For example, the SDG Compass Guide (2015) explains that, “by developing and delivering solutions for the achievement of the SDGs, companies will discover new growth opportunities and lower their risk profile.” Research from PwC also found that 83% of Private Equity firms surveyed are concerned about climate risks in their portfolios as the investment community now views sustainability considerations to be fundamental to the viability of the businesses in which they invest.

The World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA) recently released the SDG2000, a public list of the “keystone” companies that have the most impact and influence on achieving the SDGs by 2030. The list includes listed, private and state-owned companies across a variety of sectors which together make up half the global economy and are responsible for $43 trillion in revenue.

Now that these companies have been listed, the WBA is working on ranking their performance and impact on the SDGs and releasing the findings publicly. This is a strong call to arms to the biggest businesses across the globe. The WBA states that it hopes the benchmarks will promote a “race to the top” among the businesses listed, helping to motivate private sector action on the SDGs.

There is a clear opportunity for businesses to get out in front and secure their position as leaders in business action on the SDGs. As we enter the critical decade for the goals and the greatest challenges facing our planet, it is the businesses that take action now that will reap the rewards.

If you would like to hear more about integrating the SDGs in your business decision-making please email Responsible Business Director Alice Wood on