Making business measure and report their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
When we, Lise Kingo, Global Compact Executive Director, and I sat down together for a coffee in New York after the Successful Business Day at the UN High Level Political Forum in July 2016, it was with mixed feelings.
It was one year after the adoption of the SDGs. On the one hand, we had witnessed the global commitment of almost 200 Heads of State and numerous business leaders to the Global Goals. But the SDGs were written by governments and the UN, in language, which was mostly applicable to national governmental action, and extremely difficult to translate into business strategy and practice. The first year after the adoption of the SDGs, the commitment from business seemed mainly with words, not with actions. How would we know if companies were only paying lip service to the SDGs, or at best cherry picking? Would we know if they were only showcasing marginal pet projects, while not really changing the direction of their core business? How did we know if they were ready and able to reduce their footprint, ensure liveable wages and advance real, inclusive growth?
The only way we would know would be for us to make business measure their real impact – good and bad. Lise and I decided to put a stake in the ground. Something had to happen, so we developed a bold plan.
We – that is our organisations GRI and Global Compact, decided to build the global instrument to measure and report the business contribution to the SDGs. From then on, demonstrating the wider impact of an enterprises operations would no longer be optional. Accountability would finally be created. This had been hoped for by so many citizens, NGO’s, governments, and even by the UN General Assembly, which I addressed on this matter in May 2015 at a special Session on the Accountability of the SDGs.
It was easier said than done. We had to ‘translate’ the 17 goals and 169 targets into something that made sense for business reality, and that could be integrated by business management in their daily operations. But then again, we had the skills and the experience: if we couldn’t do it, then nobody could. The themes underlying the SDGs were our themes; we had developed the methodologies to measure and report; and we were key players in the ‘ecosystem’ of the UN, international business and sustainability organisations; and last but not least, we were champions in stakeholder processes and procedures.
For this ambitious aim we created three parallel groups: (1) The Corporate Action Platform, convened by GRI and UNGC. This group still exists and serves as a Community of Practice of business from all continents, working on the SDGs. (2) The Multi Stakeholder Advisory Committee, with 50 representatives from UN agencies, Government, Academics, Civil Society and Investors. This Committee gave strong input on accountability and provided a balanced view. And (3) our nerve center: the technical taskforce of GRI, UNGC, with experts which were seconded by PWC. This also served as secretariat for the whole process. Here is a video of the launch of the initiative, hosted by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
We launched three unique documents at the UN High Level Political Forum, which have been largely accepted as the basic global tools for business reporting on the SDGs. They have been developed as public good, for everyone to use. They have been translated in many languages, such as Portugese, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish*.
- The Analysis of the Goals and Targets. It provides an overview of all 169 targets and “translates” them to business, in terms of relevance and usability. It aims to help companies understand how they are impacting the SDGs and their targets, by providing a list of indicators to make reporting on the SDGs straightforward and simple. It contains a list of existing indicators and disclosures that businesses have to use to report on both their positive and negative impacts on the SDGs. It also identifies relevant gaps, where disclosures are not available. And it explains why cherry picking does not work. Rather, companies should focus on what accounts for the highest priorities for the business and for society, and therefore, is material for their business.
- Integrating the SDGs into Corporate Reporting: A Practical Guide It outlines three steps for companies to embed the SDGs in existing business and reporting processes in alignment with the GRI Standards and recognized principles.
- In Focus: Addressing Investor Needs in Business Reporting on the SDGs provides additional information about investor-relevant aspects of corporate SDG reporting.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. But at least there is now a common ground for business to measure and report on their SDG strategy and results in their annual reports. Clients, shareholders, investors, NGO’s and trade unions have access to this information, and will adapt their purchasing or investment behaviour to it. In addition, governments will use the information in their National Voluntary Reviews. One more step in the direction of achievement of the SDGs.
- UN High Level Political Forum Business Day, 2016, launching the Business Reporting Instrument in a panel with Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone;
- Speaking at the UN General Assembly Business Day 2017.
* Uma análise dos objetivos e metas (Portuguese)
ゴールと ターゲットの分析 (Japanese)
Un análisis de los objetivos y metas español (Spanish)