Richard Hardyment discusses how companies have been responding to the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There have been several studies aimed at the private sector, including the detailed SDG Compass and Corporate Citizenship’s From My World to Our World. But what about the businesses themselves? We’ve trawled through the press releases and websites to identify how a selection of clients and other multinationals have responded to the global goals in the last four weeks.
It looks like there are six broad approaches emerging:
- Say nothing! Most companies still fall into this category, reinforcing the findings of our research which showed that most companies don’t know what action they can take on the goals.
- Welcoming Announcements. There is a large group of companies that have welcomed the goals through press releases, articles and comments in the media. They emphasise how current programmes and future plans support one or more of the goals. Examples of this approach include press releases from Nestlé and ING.
- SDG Index. A few companies have already sought to explain how their sustainability reporting addresses each of the goals. BASF have been remarkably fast in developing an SDG index that signposts how their current online content stacks up against each of the 17 goals. We expect more businesses do follow their lead over the coming years.
- CSR Strategy alignment. Another selection of companies are using infographics to explain how their existing strategies and targets align with the SDGs. For example, SABMiller published a diagram showing how parts of their strategy link to 11 of the global goals. Mars illustrate their contribution against all 17 goals and Dow has a visual mapping each of the 17 goals alongside one or more of their 2025 targets. Pearson has one of the most comprehensive lists of “how we’re helping” against each goal.
- Business alignment. A few companies have gone beyond CSR strategy alignment and explained how their core business is delivering the goals. This covers programmes in different countries as well as new product development. For example, GSK has outlined three specific ways in which the business is working towards achieving the SDGs: supporting healthcare workers; responding to Ebola; and developing a malarial vaccine.
- New Partnerships. As you’d expect, very few companies have been able to launch new initiatives in the first month. Unilever is an exception – kicking off Transform to deliver the SDGs through creating jobs, increasing incomes, and improving the health and wellbeing of 100 million people in developing countries by 2025. The partnership was launched on the day the goals were unveiled at the U.N., and involves working with the UK Department for International Development and the Clinton Foundation.
It’s still very early days but the signs are promising. The categories are simplifications and many companies could fall into several of them. However, the range of approaches raises some interesting questions, including how far companies will want to ‘own’ one or two goals, or present themselves as tackling all 17 comprehensively. Will most businesses retrospectively align existing activity or plan and launch new initiatives? We should also watch out for geographic differences: is it coincidence that it’s Anglo-Dutch Unilever and UK-headquartered GSK that are beginning with the business alignment and new partnerships first?
There will no doubt be many more examples in the months and years ahead. You can visit Corporate Citizenships SDGs 2015 hub for more on the implications of the global goals for corporate responsibility and sustainability professionals.
Richard Hardyment is an Associate Director at Corporate Citizenship, where he leads work on research and futures.