Getting Back On Track: The Fundamental Role Of Business In Achieving The SDGs 

“We’re saying that progress is not inevitable. It is possible.”

-Bill Gates

In 2017, in reference to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Bill Gates said, “We’re saying that progress is not inevitable. It is possible.”

This September, the world was reminded of this uncertainty when, for the first-time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reported in the latest Goalkeepers Report that the ripple effects of COVID-19 stalled 20 years of progress toward the SDGs. “In other words, we’ve been set back about 25 years in about 25 weeks,” Bill and Melinda Gates write in the report. 

As you may have already guessed, if the SDGs are to be met, business must play a major role. In fact, data shows that companies and investors have already made some progress towards aligning business strategies and capital allocation with the SDGs. In 2018, a KPMG analysis showed that 40% of the world’s 250 largest companies discuss SDGs in their reporting, and a 2019 survey by World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and DNV GL found that among the 250 global companies surveyed, 82% have reported on the SDGs.

Mapping the SDGs can also represent a new challenge for businesses, with 17 goals and 169 target and evolving indicators. Organizations are recognizing the issues businesses are facing and are developing tools to help map, track, and improve their contributions to the SDGs. 

In September 2020, the International Business Council (IBC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF), in collaboration with Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC, published a white paper, Measuring Stakeholder Capitalism: Towards Common Metrics and Consistent Reporting of Sustainable Value Creation , with the purpose of establishing consistency and comparability for companies reporting on their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance and tracking their contributions towards the SDGs on a consistent basis.

This past January, B Lab and the UN Global Compact launched the SDG Action Manager, a free online impact-management platform designed to help businesses from any size, sector, or market understand how their business actions can contribute to the SDGs. The platform tracks and compares performance, and improvements. Additionally, the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) has recently released an SDG Framework, as the pandemic has increased expectations on investors to deliver on the Goals. Going forward, the PRI will work with signatories who seek to shape outcomes in line with the SDGs to provide best practices.

Businesses must strategically prioritize actions that will accelerate the contribution to the 2030 agenda, set targets aligned with absolute benchmarks, and hardwire SDG-related business goals and outcomes into core processes. In addition to focusing on and mapping what has already been done, businesses must also work to align with the ambition of the SDGs.

Engaging with the SDGs offers a way to map responsible business practices, innovation, and investment. High expectations have been set for the private sector to make a significant contribution in helping governments and society achieve the Goals. Read more here about how to tackle the SDGs in a way that is both manageable and meaningful for business.