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Report: Companies Prioritize SDGs But Lack Action

A new study shows that many companies still lack a plan to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) they readily describe as important.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Support the Goals—both independent global organizations that support companies lowering their impact—analyzed 206 companies’ sustainability reports and website information for progress related to SDG adoption. They found that 83 percent of companies state that they support the SDGs, and 69 percent of companies articulate which goals are most relevant to their business, indicating a sense of urgency in their implementation.

The 17 SDGs were developed in 2018 to provide sustainability, economic and social targets for businesses to align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They aim to unite the world in ending poverty, reducing inequality, spurring economic growth and preserving the world’s oceans and forests. The denim supply chain has been an early adopter of the SDGs with companies like Lenzing, Isko, AGI Denim, Boyish Jeans and more aligning targets to the goals.

According to the report, the SDGs most commonly prioritized throughout the sample are SDG 8, 12 and 13, which are related to economic growth, more responsible consumption and production, and climate action. The least-prioritized SDGs—SDG 1, 2 and 14—are connected to human and marine activities.

Despite the universal understanding that SDG adoption is critical, the report says only 40 percent of companies set measurable commitments to achieve them, and just 20 percent include evidence to assess their positive impacts.

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“If we’re to achieve the [SDGs] by 2030, every business needs to understand how they can contribute to them,” said Colin Curtis, founder and director of Support the Goals. “It’s wonderful to see that the majority of businesses in our research are showing their support for the goals. We now urgently need to see an increase in the number of businesses setting measurable targets that contribute to the SDGs, reporting on their progress and—crucially—helping their suppliers understand how they can get involved.”

In the report, companies were rated against five categories, including plans, commitments, actions, progress and suppliers. A “traffic light” system of green, yellow and red is applied to reward a company based on the achievements per category. A green rating in any given category equals one star, meaning that five stars indicate a green rating in all five criteria. Of the 206 companies analyzed, just 0.5 percent earned a five-star rating. The majority—34.9 percent—received four stars, and 29.6 percent received zero stars.

To improve, the report recommended companies set targets to achieve SDGs and enhance reporting of both their positive and negative impacts, providing more transparency throughout their sustainability efforts. It also stated that data must be more accessible, and suppliers should be included in formulating best practices for SDG adoption.

According to Peter Paul van de Wijs, chief external affairs officer at GRI, the next steps are critical to universal implementation.

“The urgent next step is to ramp up the role of the private sector in contributing to solutions for fulfilling the goals, which requires more in-depth and quantifiable disclosure, which links SDG performance with business strategy,” he said. “Doing so not will only increase progress on the goals, but it can also unlock opportunities for innovation and collaboration.”