Slow progress on UN sustainability goals

6th April 2017

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  • Corporate governance


Colin Malcolm

Progress overall on achieving the UN sustainability goals is slow, while the pace of change for some is barely measurable, according to a poll of practitioners.

Progress overall on achieving the UN sustainability goals is slow, while the pace of change for some is barely measurable, according to a poll of practitioners.

Consultancies GlobeScan and SustainAbility surveyed more than 500 corporate sustainability professionals in 74 countries to evaluate movement on each of the 17 goals unveiled by the UN in 2015. Respondents agreed that progress on all the SDGs had been meagre, but the greatest failings were the goals to reduce inequality and end poverty as well as those to protect life both below water and on land.

Respondents identified several goals that they felt were most important for driving overall progress towards sustainable development. These were the ones on improving equality and education, addressing climate change, ensuring responsible consumption and production, and establishing peace, justice and strong institutions.

Those polled believed NGOs and social entrepreneurs were doing the most to advance the goals, while national governments and the private sector were judged to be doing too little. Some 61% of respondents rated governments poorly, and 49% said the private sector was not doing enough.

Nonetheless, the survey found evidence that some companies were upping their game, with more than half reporting that their firms were developing or planning to develop SDG-related products.

Many companies had also joined or had launched partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaborations related to the sustainability development goals.

Mark Lee, executive director at SustainAbility, said companies had to do more, however. ‘We will need still more effort from business and other key players, including government, to achieve the ambitious 2030 sustainable development agenda,’ he said.

According to GlobeScan and SustainAbility, few companies are making philanthropic donations, suggesting large corporations may prefer to take a direct role in providing solutions to achieve the goals. They concluded: ‘The goals have given businesses a lens through which to focus their sustainability efforts, and companies are beginning to see material opportunities in the SDGs.’


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