Blog 21.04.16

Reporting The World We Want


You need a stiff drink.

You’ve just completed your CDP carbon reporting (and you’re under pressure to do CDP’s water and forestry reporting), filed your Dow Jones questionnaire and are rebuffing similar requests from a gaggle of eager sustainability rankers.

And, hey, here’s a lively note from a non-exec asking about your plans to report against the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also called the Global Goals.

Reaching for the Jack

Well, what are you going to do about the SDGs, sorry the Global Goals? Before you reach for the Jack, consider this.

Like most UN initiatives, the Goals are a wholly good thing. You can’t fault the sentiment and intention. They follow on from the expired Millennium Development Goals and urge the world, among other things, to end poverty, end hunger, promote gender equality, produce clean affordable energy, create peace, justice and strong institutions. All by 2030.

It’s easy to be cynical about the Global Goals because they sound like a contestant’s wish list in a 1970s Miss World competition. But that would be the wrong response to a genuine attempt to make the world a greener, fairer place. Or what the UN terms: The Future We Want.

Because governments and UN institutions have so obviously failed to improve the human condition, the international community is now looking to business for help. The UN, through the UN Development Group, is asking companies to report on how much (or little) they are contributing to the Global Goals. This is not a prescriptive ask, but the implication is that responsible companies should be reporting against the goals.

End poverty

Is this a fair request given the congested reporting landscape? And just how is business supposed to report?  Does paying above the minimum wage contribute to ending poverty? And what does a company say about its efforts to create global peace and justice?

Listening to the corporate chatter, there is certainly a more positive business response to the Goals than one would expect from such a woolly collection of good intentions. But because of the virtual impossibility of quantitative reporting, the best that can be expected is token references to the goals in corporate reports. This will probably take the form of enhanced GRI indexes, where corporate contributions to the goals will be mapped along with the GRI and/or SASB indicators.

Such tokenism won’t change the world, but at least it might keep alive the dream that we can create a better world if we try. We’ve got to stay positive.

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Peter Knight

Chairman and co-founder

GSK, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IKEA


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Wonder what the future holds? Read IIED’s @andynortondev’s take on the 2018 sustainable development agenda…
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