Only 10 Years to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals but Businesses Remain on Starting Blocks for Integration and Progress

Analysis by PwC of over 1000 published reports from listed, private and public sector organisations, highlights that with only ten years to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a great deal of work to be done if business is to contribute meaningfully to national efforts. 

PwC’s annual assessment of public reporting on the SDGs assesses the level of integration of the goals into leadership, business strategy and reporting, as an indicator of business’ vital contribution to achieving Government’s stated commitments within the next ten years.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of organisations analysed reference the goals in their public reporting, just over half in their annual report. Only 1% of the overall sample report quantitative measures to show their progress towards those targets.

It’s now four years since the Sustainable Development Goals were unanimously ratified by all 193 UN Members states as a universal framework for more sustainable ways of living and operating. While Governments around the world have the ultimate responsibility for delivering on the goals, they cannot be achieved without the support of business.

Progress requires specific reporting

Despite good overall awareness, progress on the SDGs could be undermined by a lack of specifics on targets, measurement, and wider business integration. Reporting progress towards the targets needed to achieve the ambitions is very immature, despite the goals offering a common language and framework to build a more transparent view of the issues, progress and scale of change needed. Just 1% of companies analysed measure their performance against specific SDG targets.

Of the companies analysed:

  • One in five leaders referenced the SDGs in their outlook for the year – demonstrating the goals are moving into the boardroom agenda.
  • Of those companies referencing SDGs, 59% referenced them as part of their sustainability report while just over half (51%) mentioned them in their annual report.
  • 14% mention specific SDG targets: of those, 39% identify qualitative ambitions, and 20% quantitative ambitions.
  • Just 34% of those that mentioned the SDGs (25% of all companies analysed), did so in sections of their reporting that discussed business strategy.
  • The majority of companies identify with the goal of Decent Work & Economic Growth as their focus, but goals related to natural resources or wellbeing, critical to sustaining business feature less prominently.

Louise Scott, global lead on Sustainable Development Goals, PwC, says

“While awareness is high, unless integrated measurement and reporting takes place, progress and relevant policy measures can’t be identified at the level of detail necessary to really drive progress on reaching the goals.”

“Companies are starting to prioritise goals they believe are relevant to them, but we’ve little evidence of joined up thinking on how the goals are approached. Goals related to water, land and energy have strategic opportunities and risks for almost every sector, yet are not widely identified as considerations in future business strategies and investments.”

“The goals are practical. They are both a risk and opportunity management framework from businesses’ point of view. While companies don’t need to specifically reference goals to be acting on them, we should be seeing the identification of issues that underpin them and strategies to address them, and unfortunately we’re not.”

PwC examined published reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals, including integrated reports, annual reports and sustainability reports of 1141 listed, private and public sector organisations across 31 countries and territories, in seven industries. As the scope of companies and reports analysed this year was larger than previous years, results are not directly comparable.