SDG Action Insights: B Lab Report Examines Business Engagement and Performance on the Sustainable Development Goals

December 8, 2021

Report Finds Need for Bolder Business Action to Achieve a More Inclusive Economy and Resilient Planet

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present both challenges and opportunities for businesses seeking a more inclusive economy and resilient planet. Achieving the SDGs — a global effort to create a shared, durable prosperity for all people — within this decade means businesses must act boldly and broaden their view of success beyond the bottom line. To encourage and support these actions, policymakers around the world can advance or reshape rules governing businesses.

Certified B Corporations and other purpose-driven businesses are among those finding ways to align their operations with the SDGs, thanks to tools like the SDG Action Manager developed by B Lab and the UN Global Compact and launched in January 2020. Since then, more than 15,000 companies have interacted with the SDG Action Manager.

To learn more about how companies are aligning their operations with the SDGs, B Lab’s Insights team analyzed data from the 1,700 companies that have significantly engaged with the SDG Action Manager  to produce the SDG Action Insights Report. This report outlines where businesses are excelling and identifies opportunities for improvement.

A Call for Businesses to Collaborate on the SDGs

Dan Osusky, Head of Standards and Insights at B Lab Global, said during a video overview of the report that the report points to a need for companies to embrace stakeholder governance — incorporating impact on customers, workers, community, and environment — rather than shareholder primacy to succeed in pursuit of the SDGs.

“Despite all of these different interesting insights and correlations and types of engagement that we see from companies, overall the action and performance of companies is not strategic or bold enough to actually achieve the SDGs,” he said. What’s needed, he said, are strategic changes to supply chains and business models as well as collaborations and advocacy for action.

Overall, the report found that companies are performing significantly better in their internal operations than any other section, with company’s scores in the supply chain and collective action sections scoring the lowest.

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Charlie Fraioli, Senior Standards Analyst at B Lab Global, said this call for greater adoption of stakeholder governance and greater strategic improvements in companies’ supply chain and collective action efforts must extend beyond the B Corp community to create lasting change.

“We know that all companies have an impact on the SDGs, whether that’s good or bad, intentional or unintentional,” he said. By using the SDG Action Manager, companies can identify where they have the largest opportunities for improvement. “If we were to score a company’s positive and negative impacts together, a company’s positive contributions toward a goal might cancel out their negative impacts,” Fraioli said. “It’s important to recognize that businesses can simultaneously be contributing toward a goal with their best practices and, at the same time, have material negative impacts that they need to be effectively managing and addressing.”

B Corps can lead by example in tackling long-term or structural challenges that can be the most impactful and strategic, he said.

Learn more in the SDG Insights Report

Discover how businesses are engaging, performing, and improving on the Sustainable Development Goals in this report from B Lab’s Global Insights team.


An Overview of Companies Engaging with the SDGs

The SDG Action Insights report uses data from 1,700 companies that completed the introductory baseline module of the SDG Action Manager as well as at least one SDG-specific module. The analysis followed methods that preserve the confidentiality of individual company information. The report includes a snapshot overview at the regions, size, and sectors of these companies. The largest number of companies are from Europe, have 1-9 employees, and are in the service industry.

Across all companies, SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, and SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production were the most commonly prioritized, while SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 14: Life Below Water, and SDG 15: Life on Land were the least commonly prioritized. However, regional differences do exist, and the report found that companies operating in the Global South, especially Latin America and Africa, prioritize Goal 1: No Poverty. Meanwhile Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and Goal 12: Responsible Production and Consumption appear more common in the Global North. In North Africa and the Middle East, Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy was most prioritized.

A majority of companies analyzed in the report are focused on one to four SDGs, with companies prioritizing on average six SDGs. The report also notes an increase at the high end of this scale, because some companies are taking a completely comprehensive approach to engage with nearly all of the SDGs.

The report finds that in North America, the top performing SDG is Goal 4: Quality Education, while low performing SDGs are Goal 2: Zero Hunger, Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, and Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. It also includes a deeper look at two SDGs — Goal 5: Gender Equality and Goal 13: Climate Action — that includes identified best practices for businesses to contribute to each SDG, engagement rankings compared to other SDGs, high- and low-performing industries, and common improvement practices.

The SDG Action Manager

To support businesses pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), B Lab and the United Nations Global Compact along with content advisors developed the SDG Action Manager. This impact management solution enables businesses worldwide to set goals, track progress, and stay motivated on their actions toward the SDGs.

Learn More

Watch an overview of the SDG Action Insights:

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