On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit — officially came into force. Have they had any discernible impact on reporting? And how have they actually been received by businesses? These are hotly discussed topics in the sustainability world at the moment.
According to Richard Howitt, CEO of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) companies seem willing to contribute to the SDGs and to learn how to align these goals to their business strategy. Reporting using the SDGs is part of the process of embedding them into the sustainability strategy and business model of the company. This process can be tricky as there are quite a few established frameworks available to companies.
However, according to Timothy J. Mohin, Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the SDGs are a great opportunity to promote harmonisation among reporting frameworks as all the United Nations member states have agreed to work towards these goals which translate into getting the ‘buy-in’ from nearly every national government on the planet.
GRI’s aim is to reduce the reporting burden for companies. The partnership between GRI and the UN Global Compact is facilitating this; the two organisations have set up "Reporting on the SDGs Action Platform" - a web-based platform on which users share best practices for corporate reporting in line with the SDGs. Companies that already use this platform include industry leaders such as Danone, Coca-Cola, Telecom Italia, and Nestlé.
Other tools are also available such as the SDG Compass - a guidance tool that can help companies to align with the SDGs. The SDG Compass has also been met with some success; the Dutch multi-national AkzoNobel is one of a number of companies to use this tool.
Analysis undertaken last year by Ethical Corporation into 21 CSR and sustainability reports showed that Ericsson, SABMiller, ARM and IKEA Group had integrated the SDGs into their reporting. Many other companies have also started embedding SDGs principles into their operational and reporting frameworks. There isn’t sufficient historical data to find correlations between the SDGs and financial performance. However, it seems clear that companies proactively aligning their strategy to the SDGs are likely to be able to deliver sustainable returns in the long term.