Exploring resources to help link the SDGs to your sustainability reporting.

By: Heather Shand

As a result of the impressive momentum behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), most companies will be putting time and energy into addressing the SDGs – many have done so already. Whether the focus is on reporting to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), submitting annual UN Global Compact (UNGC) Communication on Progress (COP) reports, or on other frameworks, the SDGs will likely become an important component in a company’s reporting process.

Yet many wrestle with what to address and the decisions about developing and communicating targets, initiatives, and progress.  Fortunately, a plethora of resources – featured below – help companies tackle this important, but daunting work. To support the action, energy and vision currently propelling the SDGs forward, OneReport is integrating the SDGs into our software platform to help streamline the reporting experience.

An outgrowth of work spearheaded by the UNGC and the GRI, we suggest reviewing the Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of the Goals and Targets. Released in September 2017 following the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, this document aims to drive integration of SDG reporting with a “harmonized indicator set and methodology” into ESG, corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting.  For each SDG goal and target, potential actions, topics and disclosures are identified for their appropriate counterparts in GRI Standards, G4 Guidelines, and many other frameworks. We eagerly await the sister document A Practical Guide to Defining Priorities and Reporting, scheduled for release in the new year.

One of the SDG targets (12.6) cites the benefits of sustainability reporting and specifically encourages companies to integrate sustainability information in their reporting. While such reporting has been widely adopted, “no single, uniform methodology (exists) for measuring and reporting on business progress and impacts.” The document acknowledges that reporting based on different frameworks will continue.

Even without a common standard for reporting on the SDGs, businesses around the world have begun to actively participate in measuring and acknowledging their company’s progress and impact on the SDGs. Brown Forman offers a solid example of identifying and focusing on the specific goals they feel align most closely with their business strategy. Unilever, on the other hand, has gone much deeper to address each of the 17 goals in detail while noting how their Sustainable Living Plan contributes to the goals. Microsoft shares a white paper identifying ways that it advances progress on the SDGs.

As it may not always be clear to businesses how best to address the SDGs, the UN Global Compact has been active in designing tools to help companies integrate the SDGs into their reporting and overall business strategy. The Blueprint for Business Leadership is designed to inform and guide strategies for companies addressing or prioritizing the SDGs. Advancing the SDGs, offers the opportunity to examine individual SDGs with corresponding initiatives. The SDG Compass is an inventory of business tools used to assess a company’s impact on the SDGs.

Clearly, strategies and priorities will vary by sector or company.  The UNGC interactive map takes the SDG data gleaned from current COP reports and explores it by region, sector and goal. Looking at this tool, a company can do a quick comparison of the current path for SDG priorities within their industry. Additionally, the UNGC 2017 Progress Report offers key findings with regard to action and interest relating to the SDGs. A few are listed here:

  • 75% of UNGC companies are taking action to advance the SDGs
  • Actions by companies are primarily focused on integrating the SDGs into core business and by building partnerships
  • The top SDGs being targeted by businesses:
    • Goal: 8 – Good Jobs and Economic Growth (49%)
    • Goal: 3 – Good Health and Well-Being (49%)
    • Goal: 5 – Gender Equality (45%)

Understanding and communicating the business case for delivering on the SDGs is a crucial component for companies to have success in contributing to sustainable development. The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) recently published Towards a sustainable economy, a business case for delivering on the SDGs. It provides another resource for companies to fully implement Sustainable Development Goal initiatives into their overall, long-term business strategy. This source, joined by a chorus of others, emphasizes the interdependence between the SDGs and advocates for a holistic approach. “Cherry-picking the Goals that have the easiest business case will be insufficient and potentially counterproductive…There is a strong commercial case for business to lead the shift to a sustainable economy that can deliver the SDGs as a whole.  Failing to deliver will result in disruption and missed opportunities for business.”

PwC’s report, “Make it your business: Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals” outlines how businesses are–and should consider–engaging with the SDGs. Noting that only 1% of companies surveyed in 2015 planned to assess their impact on all 17 SDGs, PwC acknowledges the challenge of addressing all 17.  Yet, they advocate taking the time to understand the impact of each SDG on a company’s value chain. “It’s less about picking the easiest, most obvious, or positive ones, and more about picking the ones that are material to the business.” They suggest asking important questions, such as on which Goals can you have the most impact or which are “best…for the planet?” This gets back to the GRI’s definition of materiality, including topics with “major economic, environmental, or social impacts” or significant stakeholder interest.

Finally, how are the SDGs impacting sustainable investment organizations? Robeco and RobecoSAM are taking a three phase approach in responding to the SDGs by examining how their products, processes and future plans are aligning with the SDGs. Accelerating Impact: Advancing Sustainable Development Goals through Investing illustrates where Robeco and RobecoSAM currently stand in relation to the SDGs and how they intend to increase the SDG impact of their products. They clearly state that “SDGs will strengthen and enhance our approach to sustainable investing…”, and as such, are making a concerted effort to incorporate the SDGs into their services.

It is impressive to see the time and effort that organizations are dedicating towards creating comparable methodologies for reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals.  It is exciting to witness, and be part of, the remarkable work being directed towards realizing the future success of the SDGs. Streamlining the corporate reporting process of the SDGs will enable companies to dedicate more time to the hard work of advancing the Goals. OneReport looks forward to serving as a resource supporting this hard work that underlies progress on the SDGs.

“Taken together, the SDGs represent a global strategy for sustainable growth that provides business with a long-term direction of intent.”
– Towards a Sustainable Economy: the commercial imperative for business to deliver the UN SDGs