Unlocking the power of companies through capital markets and society

October 25, 2017

The World Benchmarking Alliance represents a new opportunity to measure and compare corporate performance on the SDGs. Gerbrand Haverkamp outlines the transparent and dynamic approach the index is taking to its development to ensure it’s relevant and credible.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the milestones marking the path towards the future we want. These goals cannot be achieved without the firm commitment of the private sector to work with government and civil society to deliver the solutions and investments needed to achieve the SDGs. Many of the world’s leading companies are already aligning their business models with the SDGs. However, information and analysis of corporate sustainability performance remains hard to access or compare, making it hard to credit leaders or hold laggards to account.

A powerful and potentially transformative way to address this challenge is the production of international league tables measuring and comparing corporate performance on the SDGs. The global need for such league tables is widely acknowledged, from the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) to the EU High-level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance. These league tables require sophisticated benchmarks that can provide financial institutions, companies, governments, and civil society with information they can use to allocate capital, increase transparency, track and compare corporate sustainability performance, and ultimately catalyse action and accelerate SDG delivery.

The founding partners – Aviva, the UN Foundation, BSDC, and Index Initiative – are putting forward the idea of establishing a World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA). We envision that the WBA would become an institution that will develop, fund, house, and safeguard publicly available, free corporate sustainability benchmarks aligned with the SDGs. By providing all stakeholders with access to this information, the WBA will help investors, civil society, governments and individuals exert their full influence and help the private sector play its role in delivering the SDGs.

This environment of enhanced transparency and understanding can fundamentally change the quality of multi-stakeholder engagement and align corporate performance with sustainability objectives. Benchmarks and league tables are only powerful tools if they are considered robust, credible, and used by a large number of actors. Only through the formation of a genuine alliance can the WBA be effective as a global institution and develop high-quality benchmarks.

Over the course of the next eight months, we will be holding a series of global and regional consultations with stakeholders to refine the WBA’s ambition, inform its priorities in terms of SDGs and industries and outline its institutional structure. The first roundtable took place in New York on September 19th, followed by an official launch on September 21st.

Themes that emerged from the discussion – putting people back at the centre, creating added value, identifying critical intersections between industries and SDGS, data and data providers, methodology, engagement and the unique opportunity presented – are outlined in published summary report on our website. Similar reports will follow each of the roundtables.

The roundtables will be complemented by additional research, interviews and online consultations. The collective findings and recommendations on next steps will be compiled in a synthesis report, to be published in May 2018.

The consultation phase of the WBA is made possible thanks to the contributions of the UK, Dutch, and Danish governments. Organisations endorsing WBA concept and becoming allies to the global consultation continues to grow and can be found online, alongside upcoming roundtables, and background documentation at: www.worldbenchmarkingalliance.org

In our vision of a sustainable future, everyone can access information on how companies perform on sustainability issues, enabling investors, civil society, governments, and individuals to exert their full influence to improve corporate sustainability performance. This environment of enhanced transparency and understanding delivers a change in the quality of multi-stake-holder engagement, critical for unlocking the private sector’s potential to maximise their contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and corresponding SDGs.

Gerbrand Haverkamp is Executive Director at the Index Initiative, which develops benchmarks that aim to encourage industries and companies to enhance their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).