There's a constant stream of articles on my social media feeds about the 'failure' of corporates to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One that caught my eye was a report from PwC which, amongst other things says on its cover:

"It makes commercial sense to embed the SDGs in operations and strategy, but how ready is business to support governments achieve these global goals?"

I would rewrite that to say "It makes commercial sense to embed Sustainability in operations and strategy..." How you do that, whether by SDGs, Science-based targets, or, my favourite, Zero targets (zero waste, zero carbon, zero toxins), is really up to you.

The second bone I have to pick with the PwC report is its accusation that businesses are 'cherrypicking' the SDGs they want to engage with. I assume that top management consultants are aware that having 17 generic goals (and 169 associated targets) in every business strategy, no matter what sector,  is ridiculous? After all if you prioritise everything, you prioritise nothing.

I recommend to my clients that, if they want to engage with the SDGs, that they choose which 5-7 are most relevant to them and set stretch targets around those. If you are, say, a cement manufacturer, then trying to tackle world hunger (SDG 2) will inevitably detract from the need to cut carbon emissions (SDG 13) a problem with which the cement sector contributes to by a significant degree. By focussing on that goal, a cement business would also contribute to SDGs 3, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12, but trying to hit all 17 targets at once will lead to incremental progress, not the climate breakthrough we require.

As always in Sustainability, we must not let the tail of the latest hot topic wag the dog of progress.

For more on the SDGs, check out this edition of Ask Gareth on that very subject.


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