SDGs - Maximising the opportunities

Challenge Sustainability - September 19, 2018

It is hard to believe the SDG’s were announced almost three years ago. While they have served a useful role in advancing the way business can engage and communicate sustainability, many companies are not yet maximising the opportunity, and are at worst playing lip service by using the goals to showcase ‘business as usual’.

The SDGs are helpful as a common and consistent external framework the cuts across governments, wider society and business. But, like any framework the goals need to be considered carefully and not approached as a straightforward ‘tick box’ exercise.  Working with our clients with sustainability strategy development and communications, incorporating the SDGs, we have the following observations for companies seeking to avoid common pitfalls and make the most of the opportunities the SDG’s offer.

  1.  The SDG’s should be used to give you an external viewpoint; what will society expect from my organisation if we are to address the most pressing global challenges? For more mature companies this is unlikely to unearth anything drastically new, certainly at the level of the 17 goals, but it should be the first step for any organisation when considering the goals.
  2.  Avoid superficial mapping, which is the stage we see many companies still at today. This ignores the real details of the goals, which lie in the 169 targets and indicators that sit below the SDGs. Each must be reviewed, taking an operational view of your business and supply chain. Traditionally a mapping exercise would form part top down process that would focus on identifying risks and impacts, then assessing how these are managed. With the SDGs it is important to ensure you identify strategic opportunities for your business too. 
  3.  Measure impacts in a meaningful way to demonstrate the real value of your contribution. Measuring impacts is a challenge, particularly when you consider the subject of some of the goals and underling targets and indications are not the traditional sustainability metrics companies are likely to be more comfortable in measuring and disclosing, such as energy, carbon emissions, water and waste. The best approach is to address these gaps by measuring input first, which is easier, then over the longer term commit to taking definite steps towards measuring impact.  For example, SDG 1 (End Poverty) is often ignored in company reporting – this suggests companies are not confident in disclosing and measuring impact toward a goal they should be able to positively impact if they considered their entire supply chain and breadth of their operations globally.
  4.  Credible communications should leverage the opportunity the SDGs provide. They allow you to position your own sustainability strategy against global challenges, providing a valuable tool for engaging with stakeholders for whom this additional context is helpful.
  5.  Finally, don’t ignore SDG 17 (Partnerships for the goals). It’s a cross cutting goal that will really help you unlock the potential of the goals. For companies this means being more open to identifying new opportunities for partnerships and overcoming commercial restrictions.

It is no longer credible for companies to make superficial claims to address or ‘align with’ the SDGs, without actual measurement of impact. We challenge any company to not see value in the SDGs in identifying new challenges and opportunity for their business, and providing global context to their sustainability strategy and communications.

If you need help in identifying and responding to these challenges and opportunities please get in touch.