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Corporate SDGs Uptake Not ‘Sufficiently Ambitious’ to Meet 2030 Targets

Only 39 percent of corporations believe they have targets “sufficiently ambitious” to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to a new report published on the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Leaders Summit.

In addition, less than one-third consider their industry well-equipped to deliver priority SDGs.

Unveiled by the UN Global Compact, in partnership with risk-management firm DNV GL, the report found that while 84 percent of companies participating in the Global Compact are tackling the SDGs, only 46 percent are “embedding” them into their core business, and just 37 percent are designing business models that address social and economic issues like poverty eradication, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, and fair wages.

Even as we move into the so-called “Decade of Action,” progress remains uneven across the SDGs, according to the report. Many companies have chosen to focus on SDGs 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and 13 (Climate Action). Socially centered SDGs such as Reduced Inequalities (10), Gender Equality (5), and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (16), on the other hand, have received “less traction.”

Corporations are also limiting the scope of the SDGs by applying them to their own operations. More than half (57 percent) of companies are measuring their impact in relation to the SDGs, yet “very few” extend the same diligence to suppliers (13 percent), raw materials (10 percent) and into product use (10 percent), the report said.

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Public enthusiasm for the SDGs may be slipping, too. Only 29 per cent of companies now publicly advocate the importance of action in relation to the SDGs, down from 53 percent in 2019.

All of this is a wake-up call for companies to “take a deep look at where we are falling short and set industry-specific goals,” said Remi Eriksen, group president and CEO of DNV GL.

“Our world has been rocked this past year,” Eriksen said in a statement. “From the clamor of school children protesting the lack of action on the climate threat, to the disconcerting new normal of the pandemic and, most recently, the calls for justice and equality around the world. All of these developments remind us that the Sustainable Development Goals are not just ideals to aspire to, but that they are absolutely fundamental in creating a just society, with equal opportunity for all on a planet that is habitable.”

With fewer than 4,000 days remaining until the 2030 target, companies need to realize that change will not happen through “incremental improvements and adjustments to ‘business-as-usual,’” said Lise Kingo, CEO of the UN Global Compact. Businesses, in other words, need to equivocate less and act more.

“Companies need to step-up and transform their business models to turn policy commitments into action that can lead to actual performance improvements,” Kingo said. “Now is the time for CEOs to speak up and ensure all companies fully integrate the Ten Principles [of the UN Global Compact] and raise their SDG ambition to meet the needs of society and the planet.”