What Does Private Sector Need in Terms of an Enabling Environment to More Strategically Contribute to the SDGs?

by Teresa Fogelberg
Sep 22, 2017 11:00 AM ET

Originally published by Business Call to Action

There is a common understanding that the active participation of business will be a principal driver in achieving the SDGs. But specific recommendations, capacity and practices enabling such contributions have yet to be fully developed in order to reach global recognition.

I personally believe that the strategic contribution by the private sector can be brought through corporate sustainability reporting. In fact, SDG target 12.6 explicitly recognizes the benefits of sustainability reporting and encourages companies to integrate this information in their reporting cycle. Sustainability reporting drives action and improves performance by increasing transparency. It is no surprise therefore that there is a growing interest from businesses and stakeholders alike in reporting on sustainability progress, and particularly on business impact on the SDGs. Currently 92 percent of the world’s 250 largest businesses report on sustainability measures.

UNDP and GRI joined forces to build capacity amongst business and governments alike, to mutually assess, understand and measure the business contribution to the national and global SDG implementation. UNDP and GRI launched a joint publication with Business Call to Action on this topic, called MEASURING IMPACT: How Business Accelerates the Sustainable Development Goals. The study consulted with some 20 governments and numerous business, on their respective roles in contributing to the SDGs, and was launched at the Business Call to Action Annual Forum in September 2016, with some 200 participants. The study offers a first look at how governments are engaging with the private sector, and how business tools, impact measurement and sustainability reporting, can be used to measure, monitor and accelerate the business contribution to the Global Goals. The study revealed not only how important capacity building amongst small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is, as well as how crucial communication is between constituencies, in particular between government and business. Governments want to work with businesses to communicate the SDGs, and they recognize the need to help businesses understand the business case for the SDGs. The communication challenge goes beyond relationship building and trust building. It must address the complexity of the SDGs (not a mere cherry picking exercise), while making it accessible to different types of business.

One big impediment that most businesses face is the lack of a uniform methodology for measuring and reporting their contribution to the SDGs. GRI, the world’s leading organization for sustainability reporting, which I represent, has formed a ground-breaking action platform to tackle this challenge, together with UN Global Compact. This unique and pioneering cooperation is creating a mechanism for companies to report on their impacts and contributions on the SDGs; by providing an analytical overview of all goals and targets and what they mean for business; and by developing a practical guide on leadership and best practices in SDG reporting. This will ultimately enable the private sector to contribute, more strategically, to the SDGs.
What is currently preventing private sector from greater engagement in SDGs contribution, and what can be done to address this?

The main issue we are facing preventing businesses to contribute to the SDGs through corporate sustainability reporting is that there is currently no prescribed uniform methodology for measuring and reporting business progress and impact on the SDGs. Thousands of companies use reporting standards like GRI or proxies like the UN Global Compact Communication on Progress (COP), even though these reporting mechanisms were not originally designed for the SDGs, having been in place long before the SDGs were adopted. The complexity and sheer volume of the SDG targets also prevents SMEs (who represent a major part of the world economy) from reporting on their contribution to these goals. It is for these reasons that GRI and UN Global Compact have established the Action Platform Reporting on the SDGs to ultimately enable companies to include the SDGs in their reporting. In doing so, SDGs reporting can be turned into a publicly available resource that enables transparency and comparability. This in turn will help direct innovation, strategic leadership and capital towards areas that contribute to the SDGs, creating a ‘race to the top’ that will accelerate progress towards the goals.

In your opinion, what are the most significant opportunities for private sector in partnering with governments and/or development actors to achieve greater SDG impact?

The 193 UN member states adopted the SDGs in 2015 and committed to integrate and implement the 17 goals. One essential requirement from the established review process, is to create national indicators which will enable the evaluation of the progress and development of the implementation. Many states have raised the issue of the lack of public data and other sources. This is where the private sector can play a key role and provide additional data regarding their impact, both positive and negative, on the SDGs. Such information can help governments in strategic decision making to identify appropriate business models and provide support with policy incentives. This represents also an opportunity for businesses to be able to assess their operations, risks and opportunities, influence long term management strategy which will eventually lead to streamline processes reducing costs and improving efficiency. Data has the power to change and drive progress and make the SDGs a reality.  

Benefits of reporting 
Reporting on the SDGs 
Growing role for the private sector in the 2030 Agenda
Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of the Goals and Targets
Measuring impact
Analysis of the Goals and Target