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Jen Boynton headshot

Exclusive: 38% of Fortune 50 Publicly Support the Sustainable Development Goals

By Jen Boynton

At the 2017 Commit!Forum, Megan DeYoung from Corporate Citizenship took to the stage with John Friedman for WGL to share some exciting findings about everyone's favorite topic: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The chatter among sustainability practitioners is that everyone is figuring out how to align with the global goals for social and environmental wellness. The 17 goals are specific enough to be tangible and broad enough to be aspirational.

Corporate Citizenship, a global management consultancy specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility, recently conducted a survey on the Fortune 50's published commitments to the sustainable development goals. Corporate Citizenship's team analyzed corporate mentions of the SDGs to better understand how companies are engaging with the sustainable development goals.

An impressive 38 percent of the F50 have made a public commitment to support the SDGs. This public alignment -- a mention on a web page -- was significant for Corporate Citizenship. "Not only are they thinking about [alignment], but know that it’s something they need to be paying attention to," DeYoung explained to TriplePundit in an interview. 

Admittedly, it's easy enough to slap a mention on a website, but DeYoung was adamant that these mentions are actually significant. In a public corporation, every published piece of material is fair game for regulators and investors. Indeed, a public commitment indicates a true internal commitment. Beyond simply mentioning the SDGs, many companies are doing more. Corporate Citizenship further analyzed the data to gain insight into how deeply companies are aligning. Four buckets emerged:

Think: Assess connection to SDGs and develop strategy for alignment Act: Change how company acts internally and/or externally Measure: Set targets and show impact Engage: Develop internal and external programs

"Over a third of companies are looking at SDGs not as philanthropy, but as a business strategy," John Friedman explained.

These levels are not meant to be sequential, DeYoung explained. "Sometimes they happen simultaneously." Indeed a company can change their internal actions (act) by developing programs to address the SDGs (engage). A great example of a forward-thinking organization comes from Johnson & Johnson who are strategically mapping their performance on social and environmental issues TO the SDGs. Corporate Citizenship gave them a "measure" credit for the way they set goals aligned to the SDGs on the slide below: 



Johnson & Johnson does a good job aligning with goals that are material to the company's operations:

  • SDG 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages

  • SDG 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • SDG 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

As a healthcare product and equipment provider, Johnson & Johnson is focusing on the areas where it can provide value to its constituents, committing to effect change in those areas where it operates, just as we love to see.

Most companies in Corporate Citizenship's study were not so bold. Most of the advanced engagement came through company's foundations or philanthropic giving, as opposed to being aligned with a company's core business-generating activities.

"When companies were doing something on act/measure/think, we saw more examples around community." DeYoung explained. With mapping tied to materiality, like J&J did above, sustainability people can align relatively easily, but it's more difficult for a single department to make quick changes. "In community foundations  it’s easier to effect change," she said. 

When asked why companies should care about the SDGs, DeYoung explained, "They are a roadmap to the future. It's the closest thing we have to  a crystal ball showing the topics that will be facing business." Businesses need to address these issues in order to be successful in the years to come, and they might as well start now. 

Jen Boynton headshot

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton