The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched by the United Nations just over a year ago, have been greeted with optimism from the business community, with many seeing real hope and usefulness in them. However, there is some scepticism.
A recent study of European business leaders shows that much of the business community sees tangible social and economic value in engaging with the SDGs. Moreover, there is recognition that the SDGs provide a mechanism for both innovation and collaboration.
However, the study also reveals a critical disconnect between top management in companies and middle management. When asked which parts of their organisations are aware of the SDGs, respondents claim strong knowledge among CSR officers and fairly strong knowledge among top management, but very low knowledge among middle managers (11%).
Middle management is a critical group that, if engaged, can have significant impact and influence on the adoption of the SDGs. As the essential gatekeepers between top management and employees, middle management is the most urgent audience for immediate education on the SDGs. Only 13% of respondents say that employees in general have knowledge of the SDGs, and middle management buy-in will be crucial in raising this awareness.
Raising internal awareness about the SDGs
Establishing partnerships and sharing best practices will be important in creating a roadmap to inspire businesses to tackle the SDGs. 51% of business leaders surveyed say that low social awareness is the main challenge that they face in engaging with the SDGs. In addition, 37% cite a lack of direction on how to implement the SDGs as an obstacle, and 36% cite a lack of government leadership. Government clearly has a key role to play in helping business leaders to engage with the SDGs.
When asked who they consider to be their most relevant partners in addressing the SDGs, nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) name other business peers – further showcasing the leading role of business in carrying out the UN 2030 Agenda.
The full report of this study presents steps that an organisation can take to reinforce its engagement with the SDGs. The appointment of an internal champion responsible for mainstreaming the SDGs is one recommendation. Transparency will also be key, and businesses should establish and publish targets which commit their company to transforming their social and environmental footprints in line with the most relevant SDGs.
While business leaders should seek to engage and educate middle management, governments and multi-lateral institutions must work to enhance public awareness, recognition, and demand for the SDGs.
The SDGs are a new factor for consideration in business. Buy-in is not perfect, but companies that embrace the SDGs will gain access to new partners, a new sense of social purpose, and new business opportunities. By seeing the SDGs as an opportunity rather than a burden, companies can help both the wider world and themselves.
With this in mind, we call on all stakeholders, including the European Commission, to embrace the Sustainable Development Goals with practical action, and to create opportunities for strong multi-stakeholder collaboration which will be needed to activate Europe’s potential.
Christophe Guibeleguiet is CEO of GlobeScan. He leads international multi-disciplinary teams of researchers and senior advisors to help organisations align policies and programs with their corporate purpose and unique stakeholder ecosystem.
Stefan Crets is executive director of CSR Europe, the European platform for companies and stakeholders to exchange and cooperate to become European leaders in sustainable competitiveness and societal wellbeing.
A version of this article was originally published on Communication Director.