High awareness for SDGs among SA business community

A report released by PwC today on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reveals a high level of awareness of SDGs among the South African business community and highlights the opportunity to convert this awareness into action. SDG awareness amongst the business community is high (87%) compared to the general population – only 28% of citizens are aware of SDGs. These are some of the highlights from PwC’s inaugural publication entitled ‘Make it your business: Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals’.

PwC surveyed 31 South African businesses and 103 people to assess their awareness and action on the SDG goals. The SDGs are an intergovernmental set of aspirational goals with 169 targets, including gender equality ending poverty, sustainable use of natural resources and access to energy. In September 2015, PwC released an international study of 1 000 business executives and over 2 000 people to ascertain a global perspective of the results of the survey.

Jayne Mammatt, Sustainability and Climate Change Director, PwC South Africa, says: “Expectation is high that businesses will make a significant contribution to help governments and society in achieving the goals. Smart companies wanting to position themselves as supporters may want to plan now how they can take sustainability and put it at the heart of business growth to stay ahead of their competition.”

The South African Government developed the National Development Plan (NDP) which aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. The objectives of the NDP appear to have similar interest to a number of the SDGs, which shows how aligned the Government is with regard to the implementation of the SDGs.

According to the survey results, business is split on who they see as being responsible for achieving the SDGs. Almost half (48%) of the businesses participants surveyed believe the Government has the prime responsibility. Despite this, 65% are already making plans on how to respond to the SDGs (Global: 71%; Africa: 70%). They may be reticent to claim responsibility, but they are not shying away from taking action.

In addition, the survey shows that there are distinct gaps in how to engage, in particular in areas where tough decisions are required. Only 3% of South African businesses have identified the tools they need to assess which SDGs they impact (Global: 13%; Africa: 14%).

Business see their greatest impact and opportunity in areas that will help drive their own business growth. Businesses in South Africa believe that they have the greatest impact on SDG 8 (promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth); SDG 4 (inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all); SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production patterns); SDG 9 (building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation); and SDG 13 (urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

Mammatt says: “It’s clear that business doesn’t intend to assess its impact across all the SDGs. Its plan is to look at those relevant to their business or a sub set of these. It’s less about picking the easiest, most obvious or positive ones, and more about picking the ones that are material to the business or have the greatest negative impact. 

Some SDGs don’t make it onto the radar – business doesn’t register they have an impact on them or see an opportunity.  If business ‘cherry picks’ a small number of SDGs, some SDGs, for example, SDG 14 (Life below water) will have few business driven initiatives to make a change.

Only 39% of South African businesses say within five years they will embed SDGs into their strategy and the way they do business (Global:41%; Africa:50%).

On the other hand, citizens have a stronger focus on SDGs – these are business’ employees and customers. Citizens highlighted SDG2 (ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition; and promoting sustainable agriculture, learning and health); SDG 1 (ending poverty in all its forms everywhere); and SDG 6 (availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all).

Citizens and businesses won’t be focused on the same things.   Business doesn’t see the opportunity where citizens see importance. Businesses have the ability to influence sustainable development by adopting the SDGs, and citizens are becoming increasingly aware of this.

Encouragingly, 64% of survey respondents are planning or implementing plans to address the SDGs. However, 13% are not aware of SDGs and 23% have not taken any action. The gap can be reduced if the majority of the 36% who have not thought through how to assess their impact yet take strategic action to respond to more relevant SDGs.

It is positive to note that 93% of South African citizens say it is important for business to sign up to the SDGs (Global: 90%; Africa: 91%).

Mammatt concludes: “Businesses should adopt the SDG goals and integrate them in their strategy and consider the impact they have on their customers’ needs.

“Businesses need to be careful to understand how all 17 goals are interconnected. It’s not about cherry-picking the easiest, or most positive ones, but understanding, what is material to their business. Making the right connections – for example between poverty, decent work and economic growth – could mean that businesses’ investment and focus could move to those goals that have so far been neglected.”

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