Businesses urged to lead pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals

James Murray

Businesses are aware of the UN's ambitious new development goals, but are they developing coherent strategies to ensure they are met?

A form of business plan for the SDGs could yet be adopted, as following their ratification the UN is planning to set up multi-sector working groups for each of the goals and launch a UN business advisory council that will offer businesses a step-by-step guide on how to support the international community's post 2015 development agenda.

The launch of today's summit was accompanied by the publication of a major new report from consultancy giant PwC, which suggests relatively high levels of business engagement with the new targets.

The firm surveyed almost 1,000 business executives and 2,000 members of the public and found much higher levels of awareness of the SDGs among the business community, with 92 per cent of executives saying they were aware of the goals compared to 33 per cent of the general population.

Moreover, the survey revealed just over half of businesses are taking steps to identify which SDGs are relevant to their organisation and just over a third are working to select targets they plan to contribute to. In addition, 71 per cent of business respondents said they were already making plans on how to respond to the goals and targets across a range of human, environmental, economic, and health issues.

However, the report also raised concerns that a majority of businesses were yet to develop coherent strategies for meeting the targets and warned some firms were likely to be guilty of "cherry-picking" the targets that are easiest to meet.

For example, the survey found just 29 per cent of businesses have set goals linked to the SDGs and only 13 per cent have identified the tools that will be needed to help ensure the targets are met.

Malcolm Preston, global sustainability leader at PwC, said there was a compelling case for businesses to consider how they can help meet all of the SDGs. "The 17 goals are relevant for every global company," he said. "These issues don't discriminate between mature and emerging economies. Businesses need to be honest with themselves and also understand where they have negative impacts, either in their own operations or in their supply chain. It is just as important to reduce or eliminate the negatives as it is to drive the positives.

"Companies need to be careful to understand how all the goals are interconnected. It's not about cherry picking the easiest, or most positive ones, but understanding what is material to their business. Making the right connections - for example between poverty, decent work and economic growth - could mean that businesses' investment and focus could move to those goals that have so far been neglected."

This article is part of BusinessGreen's Road to Paris hub, hosted in association with PwC

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