STRATEGY – How is business doing on the Sustainable Development Goals?

11 April 2017

A new report says we are failing to make good progress on worldwide sustainable development. The results are a call to action for businesses wanting to make a positive difference in the world.

Evaluating Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals was produced by Globescan and SustainAbility. It makes fairly grim reading.

It says: “Three decades following the publication of the Brundtland Commission’s Our Common Future, sustainability practitioners remain alarmed about the lack of progress the international community has made on sustainable development.”

The focus is on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These were agreed by the United Nations member states together with civil society and business in 2015. They are set to run until 2030. This report surveyed 511 experienced sustainability professionals. It asked them to evaluate the progress that has been made.

“Polled experts unanimously agree that, so far, society’s progress on sustainable development more broadly and the SDGs specifically has been poor,” says the report. 

“Not surprisingly, experts also think that Reduced Inequalities, along with Climate Action, Quality Education, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, are the areas most vital to overall progress on sustainable development.”

Only 9% of the surveyed professionals felt positive about the overall progress. More than half felt progress was poor. But sustainability experts have become less critical of the situation since the authors first did surveyed attitudes to development progress in 2005.

“The Global Goals have given businesses a lens through which to focus their sustainability efforts,” says the report. “Companies are beginning to see material opportunities in the SDGs.”

Climate Action is considered by four in ten experts as the most important Global Goal for society. In business, most of those surveyed said the principal way they worked on the goals was by developing product and service solutions. But most of those surveyed felt that non-government organisations (NGOs) have made most headway so far, followed by social entrepreneurs. The majority felt that government response worldwide has been poor.

Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network, says: “The SDGs provide a powerful global framework for action. But the challenge for many business leaders, at least for those aware of them, is making these high level goals meaningful to their own business.

“We have a range of collaboration projects which align with the SDGs. We would encourage businesses to take a look at and pick the ones that are relevant to them. They can create a significant reframing for your business. They allow for new ways of seeing positive ways to innovate.

“These are systemic issues and can help to create innovative partnerships with others to find common ground in solving global problems.”

You can read the full report here.