Earlier this month, a new report tracking the progress of companies toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals came out with the stark headline: Business performance towards achieving the SDGs is falling further and further behind.
This report was published by B Labs, the nonprofit behind the Benefit Corporation movement. As part of its mission to empower business as a force for good, B Labs offers a number of tools like its SDG Action Manager to help businesses worldwide set goals, track progress, and stay motivated on their actions toward the SDGs. In the report, B Lab Global’s Insights team leveraged the thousands of users (and data points) of the SDG Action Manager to conduct a comprehensive analysis of where companies are prioritizing action on the SDGs.
The results reinforce what a lot of us already know: It’s time for companies to move beyond performative gestures if we hope to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Dan Osusky, Head of Standards and Insights at B Lab Global, said that companies “need to go beyond what are the easiest and simplest places for them to make contributions” and that the need to focus on “the most strategic and impactful places they can contribute”.
That also means going beyond greenwashing. For example, PhilipsMorris is striving for ESG classification despite the fact that it sells addictive and deadly chemicals. Similarly, BlackRock, which reveled in its own PR about its focus on ESG initiatives, was later exposed by its former head of sustainability as still investing in oil and gas infrastructure and companies behind the scenes.
According to Charlie Fraioli, Senior Standards Analyst at B Lab Global and the co-author of the report, “This seemingly indicates that companies are more inclined to focus on shorter-term, likely easier to implement improvement opportunities, rather than those that are most impactful and strategic… Despite a lot of talk around engagement, the action and performance is not strategic or bold enough to achieve the SDGs. Individual company efforts need to go beyond marketing and reporting related to the SDGs, to actual change.”
But there is some room for hope. Governments are forcing carbon emitting companies to change. Investors are getting oil & gas companies to change their fundamental business models. The rise of B Corporations is showing that the path to profitability can be world-positive.
Later this month, it will be interesting to see how the corporate sector engages in the UN General Assembly. Subscribe for updates to follow along and watch our coverage!