The adoption of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was a watershed moment for the world, not only because of the importance of the goals themselves, but also because of the inclusiveness of the process used to develop them. Because of that inclusiveness, the private sector is now speaking the same language as that of governments by measuring its contribution to the SDGs. Although the development community has been contributing significantly to the achievement of the SDGs since the beginning, we are behind in terms of reporting on it. Without speaking the same language, we don’t yet know how much the development community is contributing to the attainment of the SDGs.
This is a missed opportunity.
At a time when every dollar of official development assistance is more precious than ever, measuring donor project contributions to SDG attainment would help make the case for why development assistance is important. Speaking the same language as the private sector could enhance the development community’s ability to tap into the private sector and co-create solutions around the SDGs. With the development community’s renewed focus on moving closer to the day when foreign assistance is no longer needed, measuring our contribution to the SDGs would help both donors and recipient countries better objectively understand when that day has come.
The SDGs and the Private Sector
According to the World Bank Group, the SDGs present an opportunity for the private sector to:
- Align corporate strategy with countries’ development priorities
- Adopt shared value strategies
- Play a key role in sustainable development
- Change behavior to focus on the long-term
Since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, the private sector has quickly oriented itself to the SDGs, as evidenced by the 2017 edition of Reporting Matters from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBSCD). Of the 157 member sustainability reports reviewed, 79 percent acknowledge the SDGs in some way, and 45 percent align their sustainability strategy with the SDGs. One such example is PepsiCo, which has mapped its three pronged “Performance with Purpose” vision to the SDGs. For example, it recognizes that its products align with SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals). According to WCSDB, private sector firms contribute to each of the goals, but certain goals (goals 3, 7, 8, 12, and 13) have the most contribution from the private sector. This effort is commendable given the fact that firms are not required to contribute to nor report against the SDGs. However, firms have recognized that their business operations, products, and services do, in fact, have an impact on the SDGs and that there is value in measuring and reporting their contributions. Their reporting against the SDGs demonstrates that the private sector contributes to the global good in its core business operations, not just through corporate social responsibility.