SDG:s set up in large companies seldom lead to action
A growing number of companies claim to follow the UN's global sustainability goals. A new Mistra Carbon Exit study shows that there is a risk that companies rather greenwash their activities by focusing only on goals where they are already performing well. Effective climate mitigation and a sustainable restart of the economy require companies to set long term goals that stick to the Paris Agreement and include the entire value chain.
In the study the researchers has analyzed previous studies, as well as common methods used by companies to assess how they can contribute to the SDG:s. They also conducted a case study for the construction sector. The review shows that:
- Among 2,000 of the world's largest listed companies, the commitment to the UN's sustainability goals is largely symbolic.
- Half of the companies surveyed in a study had set goals linked to UN sustainability goals, but only a quarter of these had relevant and measurable goals or had goals that were already a part of the company's business strategy.
- 40 per cent of large companies surveyed in another study use the UN's sustainability goals in their accounts, but only 10 per cent reported concrete measures related to the goals.
There is thus a significant risk that some companies use concepts that breathe the UN's sustainability goals only to camouflage that business continues just as usual, the researchers write in the debate article.
According to the study, if companies want to achieve real change towards sustainability and contribute to the UN's climate goals, three things are required:
- Measures must be concrete and stick to the Paris Agreement.
- Measures must include the entire value chains relevant to the business in question.
- Both short-term and long-term effects of the chosen strategy must be taken into account.
The debate article is written by Filip Johnsson, professor of sustainable energy systems, Chalmers University of Technology, Anders Ahlbäck, project manager, Gothenburg Center for Sustainable Development, Mathias Gustavsson, researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Ida Karlsson, doctoral student, Chalmers University of Technology and Johan Rootzén, researcher at School of Business, University of Gothenburg. The study is open access and can be found here. It is conducted within the Mistra Carbon Exit program.