Millennials do not trust businesses to act on SDGs

Two-thirds of young people believe private companies will put short-term profits ahead of concrete action on the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), a global survey has revealed. 

Corporate Citizenship polled people born since 1980 about their expectations of businesses in tackling big global challenges and contributing to sustainable development. The consultancy polled this group because it believes said that millennials were will be the most important demographic in driving the goals, which have a delivery target of 2030, the consultants said. 

They are also expected to account for at least half the workforce by 2025 and inherit over more than $40 trillion in assets, making them vitally important to businesses in terms of becoming potential employees and customers, they noted.

However, the gap between the hopes of millennials and the reality of how businesses currently operate is ‘shockingly large’, according to Mike Tuffrey, co-founder of Corporate Citizenship. 

Some 81% of survey respondents said they believe the private sector has a very significant role to play in delivering the goals. However, 66.5% said businesses would prioritise short-term profit ahead of longer-term sustainability. 

Young people overwhelmingly want to see corporates move beyond ‘CSR as usual’, the consultancy said. Around 80% of respondents thought that the most effective way firms could work towards the goals was through new business models and partnerships.

Survey respondents also voiced support for companies to deliver innovative products or services to address social and environmental challenges, and to source raw materials responsibly. 

Charitable giving was the least popular, backed by just 32% of respondents. Donations to charity have been the mainstay of engagement by many firms, so this finding further reinforces the gulf between current corporate practice and the expectations of millennials, the consultancy said. 

It also noted that many respondents want to see greater authenticity and more transparency in how companies market goods and services. Firms should beware of ‘SDGreen-washing’, where products are branded with SDG benefits that may only be skin deep, it concluded.

Corporate Citizenship also surveyed corporate responsibility practitioners in businesses, repeating questions it asked in August 2015 before the goals were agreed. 

At that time, just over 20% of practitioners said that they were working on a business-led or cross-sector collaboration connected to the SDGs. This year, that figure is almost 40%. 

However, the majority of companies are only at the early stages of working towards the SDGs, for example, mapping them against existing business activities.

Corporate Citizenship said companies were being more realistic about which goals they contribute to most. In 2015, 14% picked ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies’ as one of their top three goals, but in 2016, this dropped to 3%. 

Meanwhile, ‘responsible production and consumption’ increased in popularity from 11 to 13%. Overall, promoting decent work and economic growth remained the goal most favoured by businesses.

The latest survey also found a big jump in the number of companies planning to use the SDGs in reporting, from 29% in 2015 to 49% in 2016. 

Analysis by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development published today found that nearly a third of its 163 members are already communicating on the SDGs in their corporate non-financial reports.

Reporting on SDGs was a good start, Tuffrey said, but overall business response to the goals was so far too timid. ‘What we haven’t yet seen is much evidence of companies taking to heart all 17 goals and asking searching questions internally about the changes needed to respond to the challenge they present – how we innovate, who we employ, what we sell, where we raise our finance, when to work with governments and, ultimately whether our business models are sustainable for a 2030 world,’ he said.

Options businesses said they are likely to pursue with regard to the SDGs in the next few years.

Source: Corporate Citizenship


Catherine Early is a freelance journalist.

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