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Firms not engaged with SDGs, says PwC

As many as two in five businesses are failing to meaningfully engage with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to new research from PwC

Launched in 2016 and agreed to by all nations in the UN, SDGs are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets created to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030.

The PwC report, which analysed how 500 companies in 17 countries reported actions taken on SDGs, found 83% of UK businesses and 62% of global firms were reflecting the goals in their reporting.

Despite the figures, the Big Four firm says the number of firms ignoring or lacking meaningful engagement with the SDGs needed to improve in order to achieve “real change” by 2030.

“It’s time for the businesses to stop paying lip service to SDGs and convert stakeholder and board aspiration into corporate action,” said Louise Scott, PwC’s sustainability and climate change director.

Due to its popularity, Scott used climate action (SDG 13) as an example, and said firms were making it a priority due to it being a “simple goal to respond to” rather than the high profile nature of climate change.

“That’s not really looking in any depth at which SDG targets are most relevant to a business – either as a risk or as an opportunity. And that’s not really in the spirit of the SDGs either.”

The report stressed the need for businesses to explicitly make connections between the goals and their targets. PwC said failure to do so would result in stakeholders struggling to make positive judgments on the strategy and purpose of their organisation.

“Businesses need to better understand the interconnections between some of the SDGs,” said PwC UK sustainability reporting partner Alan McGill.

“This could prove not only beneficial to their brand and bottom line but also their ability to expand and respond to more of the 169 targets than they may have thought possible.”

PwC also found that the priorities of citizens and businesses were often misaligned, both in the UK and globally, which could be problematic for businesses wanting to improve their brand reputation.

This was especially true for the UK, where the top goals for businesses were decent work and economic growth, gender equality and climate action.

The public, on the other hand, focused on goals such as no poverty, zero hunger and health and well-being.

While it was good for businesses to prioritise the goals that are relevant to them, PwC said understanding and reflecting stakeholder engagement could prove vital in building public trust.

This article was originally published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in January 2018. You can read the article here.