Are Sustainable Development Goals Material?
17.24, Coach 2, seat 74, Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels Zuid. I am travelling to speak at the workshop organized by CSR Europe on Big Data and “the closest thing the world has to a strategy” – still my favourite definition of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The setting sun colours the horizon, offering a magnificent sight. We indeed live on a beautiful planet and the SDGs are there to preserve it. But are we up for this challenge?
The SDGs already achieved the significant work of creating a common platform of targets and indicators shared across governments, institutions, academia, investors, media, and business. And this is not rhetoric. In the past few months, I’ve been in several conversations with business, academia, and investors concerning the implementation of the Goals at operational level. The most recurring questions are:
“Which targets are connected to financial impacts? And how?”
“How can we represent our contribution for this SDG?”
“On which SDGs should the strategy be focused?
Integration is happening, and more importantly it is happening at deeper and more sophisticated level than before – and with landslide policies on the horizon, such as, the Green Supporting Factor recommended by the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) on Sustainable Finance, it will only accelerate.
The HLEG report is one of many catalysts that has led me to talk with major pension funds, who are building detailed models on how to calculate the SDG contribution of the companies within their portfolio. Their models are not only covering basic binary variables (e.g. ‘does the company have a policy on X?’) and key performance indicators, but also contextual data concerning governance mechanisms and structures, goal setting procedures, and products/services offered. These are best practices, for now, but with the European Commission publishing the Green Taxonomy for financial products, they will soon become ‘standard practices’.
How are companies responding to these developments on a practical level? I will find out more tomorrow, at the event.
20.15, coach 5, seat 74 (again!), Eurostar from Brussels Midi to London St. Pancras. Good discussions at the workshop. I came away with three key messages and takeaways that I would like to share with you.
1. There is an abundance of data. Enough to represent and describe key dynamics in relation to the SDGs, from variation of spending habits due to extreme climate events (based on electronic payment transactions) to “data cubes” based on satellite observation.
2. Companies struggle to link such data to the corporate strategy and financial bottom line. As a consequence, they carry out such analyses as peripheral one-off projects, and their long-term impacts are uncertain.
3. Ultimately, the biggest challenge is identifying the areas of actions – in other terms, what are the SDGs material to the business activity. In practice, this is addressed in most cases by creating a panel of experts and surveying their opinions. It doesn’t sound really about big data, does it?
Points 2 and 3 are pivotal to connect the activities related to the SDGs to the core business, realizing integration. SDGs are a compass, but a robust materiality process - which can be used as input for other key business processes like risk management, as indicated by the WBCSD - is critical for providing evidence of which targets are the ones the Board should focus on. This is the approach we’re adopting at Datamaran.
Author: Donato Calace, Director of Innovation at Datamaran