Sustainable Development Goals: Four Years On, the Challenges Remain

September 25, 2019 Anna Kapica-Harward

It’s been exactly four years to the day since the Sustainable Development Goals — the breakthrough international agreements on climate change and sustainable development — were adopted by the United Nations Global Compact. During the UN General Assembly, taking place at the UN Headquarters this week, the leaders are looking into the progress we have made and challenges we still face. 


The picture is not all rosy. For a start, green-house gas emissions continue to climb. Not only are we nowhere near meeting the 1.5°C global warming limit, we are actually moving away from it, potentially heading toward the 3°C mark. With world hunger on the rise and more than 800 million people reported to be experiencing undernutrition, we are also off track when it comes to improving livelihoods and ending poverty by 2030. About half of the world's population do not have access to essential health services and other signs of malnutrition, such as obesity in North America, are also reaching alarmingly high levels


Business, governments and individuals all need to take action to address these challenges. 


“We must achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — for our own sake and for future generations. More and more businesses are supporting the Global Goals, and now we must drive for the tipping points that will make sustainability a mainstream reality for small and large businesses everywhere. It is encouraging to see that our Ten Principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption are helping companies to improve their sustainability performance.” — Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director, UN Global Compact


Businesses, in particular, need to remember that in the long term growth will be closely related to the achievement of the sustainable development goals, with many of them offering advantages through opening doors to new markets, attracting talent and minimizing operational risk. Many companies have committed to working toward addressing environmental, social and economic issues by becoming signatories of the UN Global Compact. 


At EcoVadis we have adhered to the principles of the UN Global Compact out of conviction: The principles of the UN Global Compact are an essential international instrument to guide the efforts of companies that have a crucial role to play in building more stable, inclusive and sustainable societies. Since the end of 2018, EcoVadis has also been a partner of the Global Compact Foundation. 


Earlier this year, we decided to look into our database of assessed companies to see whether the ones which are UN Global Compact signatories are more sustainable than others. The results were encouraging. We have found that companies that have adopted the UN Global Compact Principles are stepping up to the challenge and adopting management systems that help them mitigate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) risks within their operations and extending into their supply chains. The study, entitled Commitment vs. Practice: A Comparison of CSR Performance of the UN Global Compact Signatories and Non-Signatories, was based on 20,000 assessments and took a deep dive into performance across key themes: Environment, Labor and Human Rights, Ethics and Sustainable Procurement. 


There is no question that challenges to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 remain but it’s encouraging to see that businesses worldwide are becoming increasingly active in pursuing responsible business practices and that those who commit are able to deliver on their promises. 


Further reading: 

How Financial Services Companies Can Manage Sustainability Risks While Driving Progress on UN Sustainable Development Goal 16

Addressing UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: Steps to Promote Gender Equality in the Supply Chain 

Addressing Sustainable Development Goal 8: Helping Automotive Business Tacke Modern Slavery 

Addressing UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: Three Steps to a Sustainable Supply Chain 



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