Despite mounting evidence for the business case for integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into brand strategy, a new report released by Corporate Citizenship shares some alarming trends in how corporate action on the SDGs is evolving.
In the two years since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the number of companies reporting against the SDGs is on the rise, but research indicates that there is a clear gap emerging between thinking and action, with tangible plans and active involvement in collaborations on the SDGs stalling over the last 12 months.
Illustrating this downward trend is a 7 percent increase in the number of organizations saying that they are “aware of the SDGs, but have no plans to do anything about them” between 2016 (13 percent) and 2017 (20 percent). This number is close to the 25 percent recorded before the Global Goals were launched in 2015. What’s more, the proportion of companies saying that they are “actively involved in a collaboration related to the SDGs” has also fallen from 40 percent in 2016 to 33 percent in 2017.
The report further finds that there has been a decrease in the number of organizations committed to reviewing or setting new targets and informing strategy development based on the SDGs in the future.
Companies were assessed using Corporate Citizenship’s proprietary TAME framework — Think, Act, Measure, Engage — which was first developed in its 2015 survey as a way to assess corporate action on the Global Goals. With respondents spanning 42 countries for the 2017 survey, particular focus was paid to sampling the world’s largest companies in the United Kingdom, United States and Singapore listed on the FTSE 100, Fortune 50 and Singapore Exchange.
“Two years on from the launch of the Goals, there are signs that corporate progress may be slowing,” said Nana Guar, Senior Consultant at Corporate Citizenship and report author. “We’ve seen lots of welcoming announcements and reporting aligned to the SDGs. But the real challenge comes in application. The critical success factor is for businesses to now translate intent into action.”
The research also noted a shift in goal priorities in line with the current political climate, with greater emphasis being placed on gender equality (Goal 5) and sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11). The top priority Goal in 2017, up from fourth place in 2016, is quality education (Goal 4), while climate action (Goal 13) did not make it into the top three as it did last year. According to Corporate Citizenship, this reflects the high profile given to the Paris Agreement in 2016.
Corporate support for the SDGs was found to vary across regions. Detailed regional analysis demonstrates that UK businesses lead on the SDGs with more than two-thirds in the FTSE 100 integrating SDGs in some form through their corporate communications. This compares with 38 percent of the largest US-based companies and 20 percent in Singapore.
The Corporate Citizenship’s research mirrors the findings of other recent reports, including a UN Global Compact study that revealed that more than one-third of survey businesses still haven’t set measurable targets and only 55 percent are monitoring progress. This reluctance has been attributed to not knowing where to start and a lack of engagement of middle management.