What can business do to improve the UK’s performance on the SDGs?

Measuring Up 2.0: How the UK is performing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals shows the UK’s poor progress on the goals and backwards progress in some areas. Steve Kenzie, Executive Director at UN Global Compact Network UK, shares his top five tips for businesses who want to help the UK achieve the Goals.

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When we set out to update the original 2018 Measuring Up report it was because the members and partners in our SDG advocacy group wanted to encourage greater engagement from the UK Government. The new Measuring Up 2.0 provides a comprehensive review of each of the 169 SDG targets that are relevant to the UK, and whether we have the policies in place to achieve them.

Sadly, the SDGs seem to be a low priority for the Government, and as a result our performance on them remains on average, poor. Measuring Up 2.0 shows that people and places continue to be left behind and that greater ambition is needed from business if we’re to achieve the Goals by 2030.

But what can a business do to really impact on these big, often complex, national, and global challenges?

1.     Understand your impact

Understanding where you might be impacting positively and negatively on the Goals at a target level is the first step. It is critical this spans the entire value chain and does not ignore negative impacts that seem outside of your immediate control but are a consequence of your products or services. While the Goals have been written for Government, tools like the SDG Compass and SDG Action Manager can guide you to consider your relationship to them.

2.     Be ambitious, be brave

Recent insights show businesses tend to focus on operational actions. However, changes in the value chain, collective action and shifts in business models could often have a greater impact. It can be uncomfortable to set bold ambitions, but we are increasingly going to have to get used to volatility and discomfort with the global challenges we face. So being brave and taking decisions today on where we plan to be in 10 years can make a big difference in the action that follows. This is beginning to happen with climate action and net zero, but we do need to broaden these ambitions to cover the other 16 Goals.

The SDG Ambition Benchmarks can help you to embed practices that could create the biggest contribution towards the SDGs for your business.

3.     Don’t forget the links between targets

How you prioritise and engage with the Goals is a judgement call. Whether you choose to focus on one issue or decide you want to focus on all 17 is up to you. But one of the ways the SDGs help is to highlight interactions across the framework. As Measuring Up 2.0 shows, the challenges we face in the UK often span multiple Goals.

As an example, poverty and a lack of financial security is a thread that runs through our poor performance for goals on hunger, health, education, gender and communities (among others). You might already pay a real living wage, so positively contribute to Goal 8. But could you provide additional support if employees are struggling financially, single parents, carers or have long-term illnesses? This can cause positive impacts in other areas of our society. It’s also pertinent in the current climate with businesses like M&S taking bold steps to go further to support staff even if it impacts the bottom line.

4.     Partner, partner, partner

The SDGs can’t be achieved in the UK by a single business or by the Government alone. They require a whole of society response. Overcoming complex systemic issues is not just a moral issue, but essential if we want a stable operating environment for business.

There are many ways to partner to achieve the Goals. Partner with your supply chain to address your own impacts. Partner with your industry to address shared challenges. Partner with charities or not-for-profits to support their work. Join multi-stakeholder groups to collaborate across sectors to find collective solutions.

Our SDG Advocacy group is the only group of organisations using its shared voice to ask Government to do more to deliver its commitment on the Goals. Join us if you want to use your voice to do the same.

5.     Working together

The language we use is important. When we talk of stakeholders these are organisations and people that are important for us. When we talk of community, we think about something we are part of. If the Goals are to be achieved in the UK, then we need to shift our mindset to think about the local, national, and global communities we belong to and what we can do together to achieve them.

Whether flying a flag, writing to the Prime Minister, or taking steps to address our business impacts, we will need to be ambitious and work together if the UK is going to measure up better in 2030.

Steve Kenzie is the Executive Director of UN Global Compact Network UK, part of the world’s largest responsible business initiative connecting companies and other organisations in a global movement dedicated to driving more sustainable growth.

 To find out more about our work on the Sustainable Development Goals and become a member visit: www.unglobalcompact.org.uk