SDG Reporting Challenge 2017

Exploring business communication on the Global Goals

How do we make the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals central to our business? 

That is the question every company should be asking given how important a role the Goals are likely to play in the coming decade.

Every United Nations member country has pledged to support the 17 SDGs. But the issues that the goals cover also speak directly to the concerns felt by a global society that is increasingly holding the corporate world to account for its actions and impact on the world.

As the official window into a business’ operations and performance, it’s difficult to overstate the importance that reporting will play in benchmarking SDG work. Corporate reporting remains the ultimate level of accountability for the majority of internal and external stakeholders.

A reporting approach that understands both the importance of specific SDGs to the business and how to accurately benchmark them is going to be essential to making the goals a success. To what degree is this already happening? And what more work needs to be done?

Many companies are still at the start of their SDG journey. There’s clearly engagement from business, but making the strategic decisions necessary to tackle the 17 goals and 169 targets and to decide how to report on them is no small task.

  • 62% of companies analysed felt that the SDGs were important enough to mention in their reporting
  • But 25% mentioned the SDGs without setting any priorities
  • This means that 63% of companies analysed aren’t having any meaningful engagement with the goals. 

Companies are prioritising the SDGs they think are most relevant to their business.

  • Most popular business priorities were SDG13 (Climate Action), SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG12 (Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • Many of the indicators for these goals are already regularly reported by business
  • SDG14 (Life Below Water) was the least popular for business, with only 18% of companies selecting it as a priority

The views and opinions of society are becoming increasingly important for business to consider. Our citizen survey revealed that SDG2 (Zero Hunger), SDG1 (No Poverty) and SDG3 (Good Health and Well-being) are the most important goals for citizens. Alarmingly, these are among the least popular SDGs for business.

Businesses will also need to consider the priorities of governments in their countries of operation as these will most likely have an impact on policy and regulation in those geographies.  

For business to fully understand and effectively communicate its contribution to the SDGs it will need robust and consistent metrics to report on. Our analysis found that business is still reliant on descriptive statements in its reporting, with very few setting measurable targets or linking to societal value. It opens up the question of whether business are integrating the SDGs into strategy and operations or keeping it much more simplistic and just playing lip-service.

  • GHG emissions reduction, representation of women on boards and energy efficiency scored highest in terms of reporting quality
  • Companies that prioritised the goals had better quality reporting that those that didn’t
  • On average, those that prioritised the SDGs are reporting with metrics and numerical targets, moving beyond simple statements towards measurement and management.

Why should business engage? 

  1. Maintain positive licence to operate – by setting strategy that is in alignment with government priorities
  2. Regulatory change – stay ahead of policy interventions designed to drive SDG achievement
  3. Risk management – to mitigate the risks associated with the failure to achieve the SDGs
  4. Big opportunity – there are significant business growth opportunities in products and services that address the SDG challenges
  5. Reputation – acting in a way that respects the communities in which business operates and preserves the ecosystems on which it relies makes business sense as well as being the right thing to do

“Every business leader should be able to identify the SDGs that are truly relevant to their business and set metrics to understand their wider impacts. Only then can they effectively report on their contribution to the SDGs.”

Malcolm Preston, Global Sustainability Leader, PwC UK

Benchmark your results

In addition to the prioritisation and reporting quality research included in our report, we’ve collected performance data on 15 commonly reported KPIs for each of the 470 companies in our sample. We have developed an online assessment tool to help you compare your performance against your peers.

If you’d like to find out more information about the findings of this report or have your company performance benchmarked, please get in touch.  

Get in touch

Contact us

Malcolm Preston
Partner, Global Sustainability Leader, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7213 2502
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Louise Scott
Director, Global Sustainability
Tel: +44 (0)20 7804 5068
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Szilvia Kocsy
Manager, Global Sustainability, PwC UK
Tel: +44 (207) 804 0558
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Hans Schoolderman
Partner, PwC Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0) 88 792 76 58
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Linda Midgley
Senior Manager, PwC Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)88 792 31 99
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