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Corporations play catch-up on Sustainable Development Goals

Let’s just say there’s room for improvement in global corporations’ commitments to the global goals for 2030.

The U.N. Global Sustainability Index Institute reviewed annual reports from 100 top global companies for sustainability themes. Less than a quarter of the corporate reports called out the Sustainable Development Goals.

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The low-hanging fruit are the SDG-related goals that appear in the reports of more than 80 companies, even without mentioning the global goals specifically. The trick is to match those rhetorical commitments to action, and to results.

The report, for instance, ranks Volkswagen among the top five firms for its talk about sustainability efforts; the company is trying to recover from the scandal over its cheating on diesel emission tests. Conversely, Apple, among the lowest-ranked, is 96 percent of the waytoward its goal of 100 percent renewably-powered facilities (and its new goal to source all of its product materials from renewable or recycled sources).

The report doesn’t deal with actual corporate behavior, admits Roland Schatz, founder of the U.N. Global Sustainability Index Institute. Still, he says, he prefers companies who declare they want to follow the highest standards and sign onto them every year “as opposed to those who have legally declared nothing.”

It may be global investors who prod corporations to make their commitments to the global goals more explicit. Last year, a group of Dutch financial institutions helped galvanize a movement to align global capital to the Sustainable Development Goals and their 2030 targets. The World Bank raised $173 million on the first “SDG Bond,” with returns pegged to an index of 50 SDG-committed companies, including Nestlé and Danone.

The U.N. is planning to ramp up its effort to increase scrutiny of corporate commitments to the global goals. The index will grow to track 1,000 companies to help investors identify companies “aligned with the long-term needs of shareholders and the planet.”

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