Private sector must step up to meet UN's 2030 sustainability targets

06 November 2023 3 min. read
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Though business leaders largely believe in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the private sector’s progress is not on track, with only 49% seeing the 2030 target as attainable. Business leaders need to step up their ambitions to meet the UN goals, according to new study.

An overwhelming majority (94%) of business leaders around the world still see the UN’s SDGs as a unifying global vision. But despite that, focus on SDGs has fallen in recent years, with only around half of the business leaders surveyed saying they believe the 2030 goal is still feasible. That is according to new research from consulting firm Accenture, which comes at the halfway point to 2030.

The UN’s SDGs are a set of 17 global objectives addressing social, economic, and environmental issues, with the end goal of a more sustainable world. The aim is to reach these targets by the year 2030, though more needs to be done in the private sector in order to meet that goal.

Private sector must step up to meet UN's 2030 sustainability targets

Source: Accenture

Only 15% of the SDG targets are currently on course to reach their goal by 2030, with progress on 48% being weak or insufficient, and 37% seeing progress stalled or actually reversing.

“Businesses around the world understand more and more their potential to take meaningful action on sustainable development,” said Stephanie Jamison, Global Sustainability Services lead at Accenture.

“Advances in technology and data analytics over the past five years means we can now use multiple large data sets to measure private sector impacts on the SDGs far more accurately and consistently than ever before. This in turn allows leaders to manage those impacts sooner and with better outcomes, bringing clarity that will help fulfill the private sector’s critical role in achieving the SDGs.”

Private sector must step up to meet UN's 2030 sustainability targets

Source: Accenture

Among the cyclical barriers that inhibit the private sector from contributing to SDGs, the largest was inflation, with 89% of business leaders saying it drove attention away from the UN goals. The most cited structural barrier was lack of influence on the supply chain, with 87% of respondents pointing to an inability to influence change in that area.

The increased focus on SDGs among business leaders is reflected in earnings calls transcripts reviewed by the report. Between 2015 and 2021, the number of mentions of the SDGs increased sevenfold, but that focus later dropped sharply in 2022. A combination of global challenges like the pandemic, war in Ukraine, and rising inflation could have steered focus away from SDGs.

Mentions of SDG on Earnings calls, 2015-2022

Source: Accenture, CB Insights

The report makes a series of recommendations that are largely in line with the mindset behind ESG initiatives – a comprehensive and holistic approach towards making businesses future-proof through sustainability. That multi-pronged approach includes some less-than-obvious ways to reach sustainability like, for example, committing to a living wage for employees, promoting gender equality, protecting and restoring nature, and investing in circularity.

“Private sector investment and innovation are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. While not a one-size-fits-all approach, businesses should focus their actions where they can have an outsized impact on people and the planet, and on their businesses,” said Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and executive director of UN Global Compact.