In a recent online webinar, four panellists led the discussion on how companies can best report against the Social Development Goals. Here are eight morsels to offer food for thought

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have created a universal framework for the private and public sector along with civil society to work towards a common goal. Increasingly, companies are looking to integrate the SDGs into their business strategy. Our 2018 Responsible Business Trends Report, a survey of over 1,500 global business professionals, found that 69% of businesses are integrating the SDGs into their core strategy – an increase of 9% on last year’s report and 23% on 2016.

As part of the same report, we found that 51% of global brands are using the SDGs as a framework for their reporting strategy. Last month, as part of our knowledge exchange ahead of the Sustainability Reporting and Communications Summit, we hosted a webinar debate to present ideas and strategies on how companies can report against the SDGs. We received more than 1,400 registrants for the webinar and the following panellists lead the discussion:

• Piet Klop – senior advisor responsible investment, PGGM
• Mario Abreu – vice-president environment, Tetra Pak
• Michael Dickstein – group sustainability director, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company
• James Gomme – director, sustainable development goals, WBCSD

Below are some of the key ideas and tips shared during the webinar discussion.

1. Map SDGs against both current and future business strategy

All four speakers agreed it’s essential that companies understand which SDGs are material to the core business both now, and in the next 10-15 years. This requires some future gazing and predicting long-term business focus and needs. Piet Klop gave the example of how PGGM created a framework for future investments around three key themes: fiduciary responsibility (climate); future identity (SDG 3: Health); where they can contribute increased impact (food and water). Future investments are then evaluated against these three themes.

Mario Abreu added the point that the SDGs provide a framework and common language for business that’s comparable. It’s imperative that they are viewed from a full business perspective, rather than just a sustainability lens.

Companies need to address all SDG impacts and not cherry-pick. (Credit: AdventureStock/Shutterstock)

2. Do not cherry-pick

It’s easy to fall into cherry-picking only positive impacts. However, companies need to understand and address their negative impacts against SDGs. James Gomme stated that, by doing so, companies can understand where the contribution and action could lie for the business.

3. Be inclusive and do the basics first

Michael Dickstein raised an important point about it being critical for companies to ensure they carry out the traditional approach of conducting a materiality matrix first. In this case, doing so will ensure they’ve accounted for all key views and select SDGs that are meaningful and in line with stakeholder expectations.

4. Understand both goals and targets

Gomme highlighted that it’s important businesses understand the granularity of the SDG targets. During the webinar he brought attention to SDG3: Good Health. When focussing on the targets within this goal, there’s Target 3.6: Reducing road traffic accidents. Gomme outlined that representatives within a mining company might not see a clear linkage with this SDG3, however they will when narrowing on Target 3.6.

Gomme also explained that linking the goals and targets from particular regions with a company’s outputs will help enhance its licence to operate and boost its reputation within the region.

63% of the audience said measuring impacts was problematic. (Credit: ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

5. Measuring impact; the most common struggle

During the webinar we asked participants to indicate where they’re struggling most when reporting against the SDGs. 63% of the audience selected the option of measuring impacts against the SDGs. Dickstein wasn’t surprised by this finding and stated the need for common denominators. Gomme suggested companies look to the SDG Compass for indicators to track impact.

Abreu shared the approach Tetra Pak has taken. The company calculates the status quo of a region – where Tetra Pak hasn’t yet had an impact. It then can calculate and report on the consequences of its work in that region, both positive and negative.

Klop stated it’s imperative that companies report impact metrics that are achievable, relevant and quantifiable.

6. An opportunity to report positives

A lot of human rights reporting is from a risk perspective. Gomme outlined that, although there isn’t an SDG that focusses on human rights, approximately 90% of targets link to existing human rights standards. This presents an opportunity for companies to reframe their human rights work in a positive framework.

7. Avoiding SDGwash

SDGwash is a term, similar to greenwash, where companies are making claims with little change and/or substance. Dickstein stated a lot depends on where a company is on its sustainability journey. If a company has engaged its stakeholders, and developed and implemented a strategy that’s having measurable impacts – then it is appropriate to communicate proactively against SDGs. However, if a company has just started its impact work then it needs to first identify strategy, targets and understand how to measure its impacts.

Solar has positive and negative impacts; both aspects need reporting. (Credit: Smallcreative/Shutterstock)

8. Transparency and authenticity are a must

Klop stated that transparent communication is crucial. Abreu agreed and stated that as well as being transparent it’s essential companies understand that all SDGs are interconnected. Not understanding the interconnectivity runs the risks of ignoring negative impacts. Abreu highlighted that whilst solar panels are innovative (SDG 9) and impact climate (SDG13), they also create waste that impacts land (SDG 14) and water (SDG 15). By having a full understanding and transparent approach, companies can build authenticity and trust.

Gomme echoed this and stated that companies shouldn’t be afraid to communicate current positive work that’s impacting the SDGs. However, they can’t ignore negative impacts and need to communicate where they need to do more.

The above takeaways are from a recent webinar held as part of the build-up to the 13th Annual Sustainability and Reporting Summit. Senior representatives from Abbott, Syngenta, Pirelli, GRI, Allianz, APG Asset Management, IKEA, Shift, Orange, WBCSD and others will share strategies on how to demonstrate resilience through transparent, SDG-focused disclosure. For more information click here.

SDGs  communications  corporate reporting 

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