“The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation. We need action from everyone, everywhere. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our guide. They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success”
– Ban Ki Moon, Former UN Secretary General
As we reminisce on the last words of the former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon at the adoption of the Sustainable Development Agenda two years ago, attention is once again drawn to the fact that success of the goals depends on the contributions of all stakeholders.
In last week’s edition, we emphasised the need for private organisations to align their business strategies to the SDGs after identifying priorities based on corporate focus, activities and operations. The goals have been designed for the active participation of the Private Sector and with the assumption that success will largely depend on Public Private Partnerships. Although the UN Development Group (UNDG) affirms that the influence of the Private Sector is most significant in the respective SDG Implementation strategy plans to be developed, it is not sufficient for organisations to simply identify and implement. The strength of implementation is in tracking and reporting of progress. There is therefore the responsibility to do more.
Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, there is no doubt that the Sustainable Development Goals have so far enjoyed support from the private sector across the world including in Nigeria, right from inception; with active participation in its development, championing of awareness and growing integration into corporate strategies. Yet in reality, there seems to be a huge disconnect between efforts and results. Consequently, it is difficult to assess the progress of the goals within the private sector. Notwithstanding, there is only one way to know.
With transparency fast becoming the new paradigm for conducting business, customers, investors and indeed all stakeholders are increasingly demanding a clear demonstration of organisations’ activities towards sustainability issues including environmental, social, economic and governance factors. This has led to the increase in demand for sustainability reporting, which many leading companies have embraced. Sustainability reporting amongst other benefits nurtures corporate image and ameliorates reputation (Schneider et.al. 2007); improves organisations’ relationship with shareholders and stakeholders; helps identify future risks and opportunities; drives more revenue for the business; and increases business competitiveness.
The United Nations through SDG target 12.6 emphasises the need to “encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle”. Suffice it therefore to also add that one of the ways businesses can prove their commitment, performance and progress with the SDGs is through reporting.
The question then is, how committed are organisations to corporate reporting?
According to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), apart from South Africa, where sustainability reporting is standard practice, other African countries still score very little on reporting commitment. More recently, ThistlePraxis’ state of CSR in Nigeria 2016 report revealed that only about 25% of Nigerian organisations publish CSR/Sustainability reports. In 2014, South Africa accounted for over 90% of sustainability reports from Africa, followed by Nigeria. Moreover, the demonstration of activities towards sustainability through sustainability reporting enables companies to measure, manage, and disclose their economic, social, environmental and governance performance, reporting on the SDGs is the only way implementation can be measured, whilst meaningful progress is tracked and benefits evident on the organisation, the nation and the world. This is why, as sustainability reporting differentiates companies in the market place, companies that report on the SDGs exhibit a commitment to and leadership with the goals.
How then should companies report?
Within the last two years, numerous corporate organisations (such as Ericsson, IKEA Group in Europe and Union Bank, Total, Guinness, in Nigeria, to mention a few), that have incorporated the SDGs into their corporate strategies have reported on it based on the existing world’s most widely used sustainability reporting standard – GRI. This, they have done by integrating implementation information on the goals in their overall sustainability reports. Some others (such as Dutch multinational – AkzoNobel) have used the SDG Compass (a guide developed by GRI, the UN Global Compact – UNGC and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to both align their strategies with the goals and measure contributions. Howbeit, according to GRI, business and government leaders can agree with international principles such as the SDGs, but without guidance on how to put them into practice and report, little can be accomplished.
Accordingly, in order to harmonise SDG reporting; ensure a unified template for businesses to measure and report, as well as develop best practices for reporting on the goals, the GRI and the UNGC have partnered to initiate a ground breaking initiative aimed at shaping the future of Corporate Reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals. The ‘Business Reporting on the SDGs’ (two practical guides on a common disclosure set and defining priorities and reporting) was launched in September 2017 at the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, as part of a 3-year initiative, to ensure that SDG reporting will be more straightforward, easier to understand, simpler to execute, and easily accessible for all.
Consequently, as the SDGs has entered into the second year, tangible progress is expected to be assesses across the private sector as corporate reporting is accelerated with the introduction of the uniform methodology for measuring and reporting business progress and impacts on the goals. This development is therefore the first step towards creating a common language that will help direct innovation, strategic leadership and capital towards the SDGs. Moreover, it will provide corporate organisations with the direction in engaging and communicating with the government about their contributions towards the goals both at the national and global levels.
It is therefore expected that every business, be it small, medium or large, in every signatory country, to be a part of this progress. Already, there is a Corporate Action Group (CAG) set up from the GRI-UNGC partnership, for corporate organisations to participate in making the development of the SDG reporting mechanism a success. And according to the partners, ‘joining the CAG is the first step to exercising leadership in the SDGs agenda’ and we will also say, ‘reporting on the SDGs is the first step to business leadership in the sustainability era’
Hence, African organisations who have hitherto been passive about corporate reporting need to have a rethink and join the leading teams across the world, by not only aligning their business strategies with the global goals and implementing them but also by reporting on it, taking advantage of the common SDG reporting standard.
GRI&UNGC (2017), Business Reporting on the SDGs: Pwc
Manuel C. (2017), SDGs and Sustainability Reporting: Ethical Corporation