Business reporting increasingly focused on sustainable development goals

18 April 2019 Consulting.us

According to the prevailing scientific consensus, climate change, pollution and environmental degradation resulting from current economic models cannot be sustained without considerable effect on societies going forward. Purpose beyond profit is being expressed by businesses, while meeting global targets for sustainability is also being incorporated into wider business practices. Reporting on positive and negative business impacts remains poor, however.

The economy has, for decades, come first. The consequence of that mindset, particularly with poorly planned growth, has left future generations with large-scale problems. The scientific community has for decades warned of over-pollution and over-consumption, with many of the world’s largest businesses now grudgingly taking heed.

Climate change, biodiversity and waste are the current key issues, with the UN climate accord putting in place a maximum bound for human-induced warming. Loss of biodiversity and dealing with pollution remain major areas in which global protocols will be necessary to mitigate long-term negative impacts with little short-term gains.

While global-level, intergovernmental collective action will be necessary to transition to a sustainable economic model, the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) are a key port of call for businesses seeking to meet current sustainability criteria for their activities. A new report from PwC, titled ‘Reporting with Purpose and Impact’, explores how effectively companies are meeting SDG reporting goals – which show the increasingly social and enviro-conscious public whether a company is meeting the sustainability goals in its operational footprint.

Responsible business reporting increasingly focused on SDG

One key indicator of good reporting is a clear statement of purpose for the business as a whole. Concentrating solely on shareholder profit could have a negative impact on the public perception of a company – particularly if that profit appears to come at the expense of SDG goals themselves. A statement that includes the wider positive impact of a company, as well as the ways in which it mitigates its externalities, are increasingly seen as a necessary tool to improve public perception.

As such, the report shows that companies that have a wider social purpose to their existence tend to have a better public perception and a wider licence to operate in society. The study found that 47% of companies had a clear statement of purpose that aligned with their core business, while 45% of companies failed to have a clear statement of purpose.

The study notes that though reporting has historically focused on key social and environmental metrics (such as CO2 emissions), new reporting standards look at the whole footprint of companies across their entire value and supply chains – including subsidiaries, contractors, and suppliers.

The fuller accounting explores the whole impact of their activity on society and the environment, which makes it considerably harder to hide the effect of their suppliers or subsidiaries, which could have considerable environmental impact – even though the parent company has in theory “reduced its emissions to zero.” Furthermore, positive achievements like reducing poverty or improving quality of life needs to be considered in light of the long-term sustainability of that achievement. 

In the end, analysis of FTSE 350 reporting finds that companies are not clearly reporting their impacts on the environment, are not aligning their stated purpose with their environmental outcomes, and are largely focusing only on positive aspects of their impact, rather than the less flattering whole.


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