How to Map Initiatives to the Sustainable Development Goals

Amy Hou  |  May 24, 2018   |  Energy & Sustainability  


Why Align with the SDGs

There’s no shortage of sustainability frameworks and guidelines, and there’s certainly no shortage on opinions of which to follow. But one framework stands out for its universal scope: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Aligning initiatives to the SDGs sets your sights beyond your own short-term outcomes. It also shows that your business understands how solving global issues like climate change, women’s rights, and land degradation will ultimately impact your business down the line. On the importance of the SDGs, we can all agree. Unfortunately, we’re not quite up to snuff at achieving them.

Recent research from PwC finds that up to 40 percent of businesses are still failing to meaningfully engage with the SDGs. Additionally, the Thomson Reuters Foundation surveyed policymakers, executives, and campaigners to find that half of all respondents are not confident that the goals will be met by 2030. To fill this gap, the private sector must work across borders.  

“When the revenues of large companies exceed the GDP of many countries, and supply chains stretch around the world, the private sector plays a vital role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Tim Mohin, chief executive of GRI.

Which Targets to Focus On

All that said, where does a business begin? No one expects your organization to substantially contribute to all 17 goals. Those who have been successful thus far have picked a few targets that are most relevant to their core business values. KPMG and UN Global Compact published an industry matrix to help organizations narrow their focus here. The matrix offers examples of corporate action specific to each major industry sector, including financial services, food & beverage, manufacturing, and healthcare.

Here’s how some industry leaders have acted on the SDGs:

  • Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation — Kohler’s Clarity filtration system is designed and distributed to provide people in developing countries with affordable clean water, upheld by WHO standards.
  • Goal 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth — Alibaba runs a program called Rural Taobao. It sets up service centers in rural areas across China where villagers can sell their products online, pay their utility bills, and access credit for mobile phone service. In doing so, Alibaba supports locals in starting their own businesses without having to leave their homes.
  • Goal 12: Responsible Consumption & Production — eBay aims to create $2.5 billion in positive economic impact through the resale of used electronics and clothing. The company has also committed to raising the volume and success rate of sellers from low-income communities.
  • Goal 13: Climate Action — Leading companies such as Cisco are developing science-based targets to reduce GHG emissions consistent with U.N. Paris Agreement requirements. They incorporate climate risk disclosure into their public financial reporting, consistent with the requirements of the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.

Each of these companies looked at the goals that made the most sense for their niche in the market, and focused on achieving them. Now, the next step is to track progress toward those goals.

How to Report on Progress

To start with, some of your ongoing initiatives may already align with the SDGs. In that case, all you have to do is map their relevance to a different framework. The World Green Building Council’s infographics do this well with existing green building projects.

Businesses have taken varying approaches to SDG reporting. Samsung dedicated a page in its annual sustainability report to progress on the SDGs. 3M attached SDG reporting to its GRI index. (Although GRI standards don’t include SDG reporting, GRI partnered with UN Global Compact to create an action platform as a complement to GRI standards.) Transurban went a step further and released an independent SDG progress report.

Regardless of the format you choose, it’s important to quantify your progress. For instance, SDG target 7.3 aims to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. On Transurban’s part, the company reduced energy use at its Melbourne headquarters by 10 percent even with a 12 percent increase in occupants.

With transparent sustainability reporting, businesses can start to improve the global track record and generate a positive impact toward the SDGs. The key is to report up-to-date metrics and establish a common language with partners and investors. According to Lise Kingo, CEO and executive director of UN Global Compact: “Companies that align reporting and communication with the SDGs will be speaking in the same language that increasingly is adopted by governments, foundations, NGOs, and even investors.”

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About Amy Hou

Amy Hou is a Marketing Manager at Urjanet, overseeing content and communications. She enjoys writing about the latest industry updates in sustainability, energy efficiency, and data innovation.