The international community still has many questions to answer about the role businesses will play in achieving the 2030 Agenda and 17 SDGs, but a commitment to using private sector data from sustainability reporting is a key first step.
A year ago this week, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was agreed upon by the world’s governments. Even before this anniversary, 22 countries reported to their peers on initial efforts to implement the new agenda, highlighting their successes, challenges, and lessons learned while working to actualize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This first round of “follow-up and review” took place in July, during the 2016 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
Of the 22 governments that presented Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), 21 mentioned the private sector as important to the 2030 Agenda.[i] These governments mentioned business’ role in relation to public-private partnerships (PPPs), and noted the shared responsibility for the SDGs as a means of channeling private capital flows.
Partnerships are important, as is securing capital. But together they are still not sufficient to ensure the achievement of the SDGs. Action from both businesses and governments is essential: 1) businesses must adapt their core strategies and operations to the SDGs and the greater sustainability agenda; and 2) governments must begin using information from the private sector information (such as data in sustainability reports) to monitor business contributions to the SDGs.
How can we scale up sustainability reporting, not just to increase the amount of available data on the SDGs, but also to foster a more sustainable business climate overall? SDG target 12.6 calls for governments to monitor how many companies have issued sustainability reports. This is a first step towards leveraging those reports in shaping the most effective possible policies for each country to achieve the SDGs.
Philippines and Turkey: Leaders in Valuing Business Data
Only two countries mentioned private sector monitoring and reporting in their reports: the Philippines and Turkey. The Philippines reported that it has empowered its national statistical office to call on the private sector (along with civil society and others) to assist in statistical activities for monitoring the SDGs. The report also stressed the “need to capture programs & projects implemented by the private sector,” and it called for establishing private sector participation in data collection, e.g., through data sharing mechanisms.
The Turkish Government reported that it encourages “voluntary monitoring and reporting by the private sector” in monitoring the 2030 Agenda, such as “sustainability reporting that could be done under various reporting standards.” This will take place in addition to monitoring by the national statistical office, TurkStat. The report also highlights the BIST Sustainability Index as a successful example of private sector involvement in sustainability monitoring.
Turkey and the Philippines provide excellent examples of how governments can use private sector reporting to help them monitor progress on the SDGs.
Latest Findings on Business Reporting Tools for Scaling Up SDGs
This year, GRI partnered with the Business Call to Action (BCtA) to examine how the business tools of impact measurement and sustainability reporting can be used to measure, monitor and accelerate business contributions to the SDGs. The partnerships between governments and business that have been highlighted at the UN are important, but we should not lose sight of the need for companies to align their core strategies and operations with the SDGs, and to monitor and report on this in a transparent way.
The good news is that this is happening already. Companies in many countries have started to report on their SDG impacts. At GRI, we are seeing the first batch of G4 reports, which are aligned with the SDGs. We expect many more to see more, as more and more businesses and governments engage with the global goals.
GRI is also joining forces with UN Global Compact to promote and advance corporate reporting on the SDGs. This will build on the SDG Compass, developed by GRI, working in conjunction with UN Global Compact the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The SDG Compass is practical guidance for companies on how to understand the SDGs, how to align their strategies to them and how integrate them into their sustainability reports. This new phase of the GRI / UN Global Compact partnership will start with the development of a validated list of necessary indicators for tracking business contributions to the SDGs. Everything will be done through a robust consultative process.
Businesses have great potential to catalyze and accelerate sustainable development around the world. At the same time, awareness of the SDGs among companies is growing. The international community still has many questions to answer about the role businesses will play in achieving the 2030 Agenda and 17 SDGs, but a commitment to using private sector data from sustainability reporting is a key first step.
[i] The countries who highlighted the private sector in their voluntary national reports were: Colombia, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Madagascar, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, Uganda and Venezuela. The other government that participated in the VNRs was China.