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How well are we doing?

SDG business strategy



How well are we doing?

Editor's note: We will soon be updating our policy comparisons and case studies to include our 12 newest countries: Germany, Serbia, South Korea, USA, Ethiopia, Australia, Spain, Italy, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia, Japan.

Any sustainable economy needs every business to be engaged on green issues. There are many policies that can support more sustainable business, but one of the most promising globally is linking business performance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through an SDG business strategy.

Integrating SDGs into business policy is an area of real weakness for most of the 20 countries surveyed, with 3-in-4 having very limited or no initiatives to speak of. Despite broad acceptance and awareness of the SDGs and growing private sector engagement at a voluntary level, a handful of countries are doing more than basic awareness raising.

Even countries that championed the SDGs through their creation and ratification, such as the UK and Canada, have done little to encourage domestic businesses to help achieve them. Some, including Mongolia and China, have produced frameworks for business sustainability, but specific links with the SDGs are relatively weak. Only Sweden has taken the assertive step of requiring corporations to make annual sustainability reporting consistent with the SDG framework.

It is important that business identifies what the SDG opportunities are, mobilises the required capital and invests in the innovations that are necessary for sustained and more inclusive growth.

Joanne Yawitch
National Business Initiative - South Africa; speaking at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development in 2017

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About this policy

The SDGs are a roadmap of 17 targets towards a fairer, greener future – for example, ‘Zero Hunger’, ‘Gender Equality’, and ‘Clean Water and Sanitation’. Although the goals were agreed at the government level, achieving them will require real engagement and ambition from the private sector and individual businesses. Many multinational businesses are already report voluntarily on their contributions to the SDGs, but governments can provide guidance via a clear strategy that provides a common framework for businesses to define, and be rewarded for, how they contribute to the goals.

Through the SDGs were signed in 2015, polices for engaging the private sector have been slow to emerge. The weakest approaches give no clear SDG guidance to businesses at all. Basic policies include government programmes to raise awareness of how businesses can play a role in meeting the goals, while more robust policies encourage or require businesses to report on how their activities contribute towards the different SDGs. The strongest approaches integrate the SDGs into mandatory corporate reporting and provide incentives for businesses to take more ambitious action to achieve the goals

Policy methodology

Case Study: China

China’s domestic industries have a large environmental footprint, spurring government interest in greener manufacturing and energy efficiency. Within China these regulatory and policy changes have not been aligned clearly with an SDG framework, but internationally there is more progress. Working with UN Development Programme, in 2017 Chinese authorities reviewed how Chinese enterprises involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can mainstream SDG delivery into investment and infrastructure programmes.

China Country Profile

Case Study: Sweden

The Swedish approach to sustainable business has updated existing corporate social responsibility policies to align with the SDGs. Large companies (250+) employees are required to report on their environmental performance, strengthening requirements at European Union level. With the launch of the SDGs, Sweden also developed guidance on a clearer ‘industrial policy for sustainable business’ covering eighty different measures, impacting all sectors, and integrating additional metrics such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Sweden Country Profile