Business is engaged and sees the SDGs as a strategic opportunity, however integration challenges remain

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and DNV GL conducted a global survey earlier this year to explore trends and challenges around how companies are currently working to align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The survey drew responses from around 250 companies across 43 countries, and explores the current levels of SDG integration by business as well as some of the pervading challenges that companies are facing when integrating the SDGs into their strategic considerations.

Key findings of the survey include the following:

1. Business is engaged and sees the SDGs as a strategic opportunity, however challenges remain regarding integration
Most companies have taken stock of the SDGs, recognizing the potential to support them in enhancing their license to operate, innovate and grow. 78% of companies have already undertaken an analysis to identify priority SDGs for their organization. However, there is scope to broaden the depth of analysis. Only a third of companies have so far conducted a detailed examination of the SDGs at target-level, and a minority of companies seem to be considering how they can contribute to the SDGs through addressing negative impacts, or through engaging with their value chains.

2. Engagement and ownership is not yet part of core business
At present, the SDG agenda is mainly managed/owned by sustainability, communications and CEO departments and offices; challenges remain with regard to integrating the SDGs across other strategic functions.

3. SDG 13, 12 and 8 are the most common priority goals
Overall, SDG 13 (Climate Action) is the most prioritized SDG among organizations, with 62% identifying it as a priority focus area. SDG 13 and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) scored highest in Europe and Asia Pacific regions, while SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) was the highest scoring SDG in North and Latin America. SDG 14 (Life Below Water) is the least prioritized SDG globally with only 10% of companies seeing it as a relevant topic.

4. Lack of understanding of the business case is the biggest barrier to internal engagement on the SDGs
Although there is mounting literature highlighting the economic argument for realizing the SDGs, in many cases companies are struggling to articulate the business case within their own operations, posing a barrier to integration efforts.

5. Clarity on policy is needed to help companies commit
A further barrier to companies taking additional action is the need for greater clarity on regulatory and policy developments. Clearer policy signals would provide greater certainty to support SDG aligned business decisions.

6. Further integrating the SDGs into corporate strategy is a key ambition for companies moving forward
Setting corporate KPIs and SDG-related business goals, and enhancing reporting is a priority for most businesses over the course of the next three years.

According to James Gomme, WBCSD’s Director for SDGs, “the Council will continue to advocate that companies that have a clear understanding of their SDG impacts will ultimately be better placed to unlock market opportunities, consolidate an enduring license to operate and manage operational and regulatory risks on the path to 2030. Our SDG program area is leveraging these survey results to enhance its service offering to members in terms of supporting meaningful business integration of the SDG agenda.”

Jason Perks, Senior Director, Sustainability at DNVGL adds “our 2030 forecast for the SDG’s ‘Spaceship Earth’ found that companies have a key role tole to play in delivering what society wants. This landmark survey shows that companies are taking a strategic approach to the SDGs and there is strong leadership buy-in. We will continue to help companies to protect and enhance their value by taking the extraordinary action needed to make the SDGs a reality.”

Download the survey results here (pdf)

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