Topic 4 17 SDGs and Start-Ups

  • The SDGs set forth a bold agenda to tackle critical issues that will affect the world over the next several years. These goals act as a call-to-action for both the public and private sectors to help address crucial challenges such as ending poverty, ensuring access to high-quality education and protecting natural resources.
  • Addressing the SDGs is new territory for most businesses. Because the agenda is recent, companies’ practices and impacts have not been the subject of long-term study.

Your company may have a significant positive or negative impact on some of the SDGs and virtually no impact on others. 

“The SDGs are a new narrative around sustainability globally, so it’s increasingly important to explain what you’re doing in the context of the SDGs. But this is not an agenda that’s supposed to replace the great work that companies are doing,” says James Gomme, Director of Sustainable Development Goals with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Your company will need to to a materiality assessment, which will determine which topics matter most to relevant stakeholders, both internally and externally, such as employees, investors or the communities where you operate.

Your value chain map and materiality assessment demonstrate the areas upon which your business can approach the SDGs most effectively, as well as which of these areas matter most to your stakeholders.

Your value chain map and stakeholder outreach will highlight the areas in which your operations and CSR programming already align with the SDGs, as well as where you can improve.

Your team will be faced with choices that force you to balance your reach and abilities with the bold action required by the SDGs.

START WHERE YOU ARE: Depending on your priorities and your company’s overall experience with social and environmental sustainability, you might not feel ready to set long-term goals right away. The most important thing is to get started. That may mean setting short-term goals and building from there.

The reporting landscape around the SDGs is still evolving. Goal-setting and measurement systems are well established for environmental and economic targets, but less so when it comes to social programs. This leaves businesses largely in the dark when it comes to effectively measuring social impact at scale.

Even if your company doesn’t have all the answers yet, experts say that’s no reason to hold off on incorporating the SDGs into your non-financial reporting.

“Reporting is important.  It offers transparency to the stakeholders who are participating in our business,” says Ian Rosenberger, founder and CEO of Thread International, a social enterprise based in Pittsburgh.  “But it’s more important that we actually make an impact than it is that we talk about it.” 

Startups and social enterprises have scant resources, and if it’s between scaling your impact and creating a robust report, the decision is clear.  Do what you can to communicate, but not at the expense of your greater goals.

The European Commission recently (April 2021) adopted a proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which would amend the existing reporting requirements of the NFRD. The proposal:

  • extends the scope to all large companies and all companies listed on regulated markets (except listed micro-enterprises)
  • requires the audit (assurance) of reported information
  • introduces more detailed reporting requirements, and a requirement to report according to mandatory EU sustainability reporting standards
  • requires companies to digitally ‘tag’ the reported information, so it is machine readable and feeds into the European single access point envisaged in the capital markets union action plan.

For Startups

Even if you’re not familiar with formal non-financial reporting, you can still communicate progress. 

The SDGs are a great opportunity to begin discussing with your stakeholders about the purpose of your company. 

According to Powell of Agora Partnerships, “If you have a social media presence, you can certainly blog about it or use the hashtag #SDGs to make yourself known a little bit.  You could include the SDGs in an annual impact report that you send to your stakeholders.  Or you could gather your employees together and have a talk.  It’s all about communicating in the way that makes most sense for you and your business for where it is at its growth stage.”

“Ultimately, if we all continue working the way we currently are, we’re not going to achieve the SDGs,” says Alexandra van der Ploeg, who heads up SAP Corporate Social Responsibility global education and social entrepreneurship work. “The next step is figuring out where we can allow the agenda to influence how we do business and where we can partner up with others.

It’s about asking, especially in the CSR space, where do we come out of our splendid isolation and begin pursuing multi-stakeholder partnerships to make a difference? Those are things that are still in development.”

Post a comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *