Examples of companies linking the SDGs to value creation

by Carol Adams

Main points

  • Examples of companies contributing to the SDGs through their overall strategy to create value
  • Partnerships are important to achieving the SDGs and should be acknowledged

In my 2017 report The Sustainable Development Goals, Integrated Thinking and the Integrated Report published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) I showed how developing a strategy to contribute to the UN SDGs could be linked with a company’s overall strategy for value creation.  I adapted the business model diagram in the integrated reporting framework to show how this could be done, for example, by a pension fund.

The five steps involve: identifying social and environmental issues relevant to an organisation; identifying those that could materially influence value creation; developing strategy accordingly; developing governance and connectivity processes; and, reporting on outcomes, impacts and actions.  KPMG and PWC are amongst those who have discussed the approach in their publications. Organisations I’ve worked with have adapted it to meet their requirements.

Some good examples are emerging which stretch corporate thinking.  For example, the seafood company Sanford selected eight particularly relevant SDGs noting:

The SDGs have continued to challenge us to stretch our aspirations further, particularly in areas such as healthy oceans and climate action. [Sanford’s annual report 2018, page 15]

In a double page spread, too big to replicate here, Sanford’s annual report 2018, pages 16-17 links their value creation outcomes with the SDGs they claim to make a material contribution to.

Dutch Bank, Van Lanschot Kempen identified five SDGs to which they contribute through their core business and set out these contributions here.  They produced a similar diagram linking the SDGs to value creation.  They report their negative social and environmental impacts using the GRI Standards. Indeed it makes sense to use the detailed work of the GRI and UN Global Compact in determining metrics showing contributions to, and negative impacts on, achieving the SDGs.  To facilitate this the GRI is linking indicators in its Standards with the SDGs.

Unilever has long linked its sustainability strategy and accompanying detailed targets with is growth mission.  This diagram clearly links its core value creation outcomes with specific SDGs.   Contributing to the SDGs helps ensure the continued availability of multiple capitals that the business depends on and in this diagram Unilever has highlighted its contribution to SDG 17, partnerships for the goals as an important contributor to its business success.

Partnerships are important to make progress.  Those between the the GRI, WBCSD and UN Global Compact have produced some useful outputs.  Partnerships should be acknowledged.  My work as author the report I refer to in this article was funded by ICAS, the project management team included Anne Adrain from ICAS and Neil Stevenson from the IIRC and the report was published jointly by ICAS and the IIRC.  An Advisory Group led by Russell Picot provided feedback on my draft.  The project itself was the output of a commitment made by Paul Druckman and Oliver Greenfield (Green Economy Coalition) at an A4S event.  Acknowledging each others’ work, and those of their partners, will be particularly important as the Corporate Reporting Dialogue moves beyond statements of cooperation and ticking boxes to show the contributions thus far, to providing reporters using multiple frameworks with a way forward.

Note added April 2020: There is a list of additional examples in Adams (2017) Sustainable Development Goals Disclosure (SDGD) Recommendations: Feedback on the consultation here. See page 17.

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  1. Carol,
    Good stuff as always. Thanks.
    For a further example, see the work I am doing with Summa Equity, a Private Equity fund in Oslo. Summa has develop a methodology, Via Summa, that uses the UNSDGs as a skeleton for investing, developing management and further partnerships. We are currently working on the next report.

    • This is a great example of linking the SDGs with global megatrends and risks and using them to identify value creating opportunities shifting capital to “solve some of the major challenges facing the world today” (p5). Thanks Glenn.

  2. Dear Carol, thanks for sharing ! Other examples which are worth reading , are the Integrated annual review 2018 and impact report 2018 of the Dutch ABN-AMRO Bank. Regards,
    Rob Jacobs

    • Hi Rob
      Many thanks – this report continues the innnovation in their previous reports. I especially like the reporting of both negative and positive contributions to the SDGs on page 26 of the impact report. I wonder how well this is integrated into their strategy and value creation model at this point. Carol

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