Sixty two percent of global companies now consider the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) to some extent in their corporate reports, according to research from PwC.

The SDGs were launched in January 2016 to tackle inequality and climate change by 2030, consisting of 17 goals and 169 targets. The SDG Reporting Challenge research conducted from July to December 2017 surveyed 470 companies across 17 countries on their actions taken, the prioritisation of goals, and their reporting effectiveness.

Of the 62% of companies that include the SDGs in their corporate reports, only 37% have prioritised individual goals out of the 17, and only 28% of companies assessed set quantitative targets and linked these to their societal impact for at least one key performance indicator (KPI). On the other hand, 38% of global firms are either ignorant or have no meaningful engagement with them.

In terms of prioritisation 79% of analysed businesses believed climate action to be the most important, followed by decent work and economic growth (76%) and responsible consumption and production (65%). The least prioritised goals were life below water (18%), no poverty (21%) and zero hunger (23%).

This shows a clear contrast with public opinion, as 67% of 2,500 citizens surveyed by PwC prioritised zero hunger in their top five. Further, life below water in particular should be a business concern due to the increasing waste in global water supplies, the report added.

According to the PwC survey, every country in the research sample included climate action in their top business priorities, and every country also chose decent work and economic growth, except Germany. Germany prioritised climate action, health and wellbeing, and responsible consumption and production but their worst performing goals were gender equality, life below water and quality education. Similarly, the Netherlands did not perform well on gender equality, as well as life on land and zero hunger. The USA and the UK were the only countries that had gender equality as a business priority.

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PwC’s Sustainability and Climate Change director and co-author of the report Louise Scott added that unless the connection is made between risks and opportunities it will be difficult to report effectively, meaning stakeholders could struggle with their judgements.

A business aligning its own strategies with country priorities, such as tackling climate change or sustainable cities, ensures a positive relationship with the government when it comes to licenses, policy and regulatory requirements, according to the report. Following the SDGs will also collectively save USA $12tr per year in global revenues and 380m jobs, according to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC), a global community supporting the alignment of companies to the SDGs through research and recommendations.

The research showed that regardless of progress made there is still a need for SDG performance metrics and consistent reporting within the unofficial framework for businesses.

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) president Peter Bakker added that the SDGs provide a framework to translate global needs and ambitions into business solutions.

“By carefully considering how they can impact the SDGs and developing effective solutions, companies will be able to better manage their risks, unlock opportunities in growth markets, anticipate consumer demand, and strengthen supply chains,” he said.

GRI chief executive Tim Mohin said: “Integrating the SDGs into reporting ensures companies are engaging in a common dialogue with stakeholders. But reporting is not the goal. It is a means to an end. And the end we seek is sustainable development.”