What are the key drivers for corporate engagement around the SDGs? Does sustainability define the corporate communications and corporate engagement strategies beyond declarations? Which companies and organisations champion the SDG discourse? Those were just a few initial questions defining our SDG and sustainability communications study delivered during the EACD Forum last week.
Several interesting and surprising findings emerged.
It immediately became clear that for those companies working in sectors with clear reputational issues, the SDGs were likely to be considerably more integrated — which suggests that for many firms, sustainability continues to be seen as a tool supporting a go-to-market strategy rather than being part of the core business and its organisational DNA.
Yet there has been progress. We compared the results of this study with those from 2016 and it became clear that there is much more widespread acknowledgement of the SDGs than there has ever been previously, and far more enthusiasm for integrating them into company operations and communications. We noted too that an interesting divergence has developed, probably driven by the stakeholders, between B2C companies who communicate more strongly on the topic of sustainability, and B2C companies for whom the SDGs are more important.
Other anomalies emerge: for example, one of the SDGs — SDG12, Responsible Consumption and Production — is key to private sector businesses yet of relatively little importance to the non-profits.
As one might imagine, it is the international NGOs and similar organisations who are most closely aligned to the SDG framework, developing positions in relation to the key Goals and communicating extensively on their progress against them. Nevertheless, even they demonstrate relatively low levels of cross-organisational alignment in terms of broader partnerships and cooperation beyond the regular set of key stakeholders and partners.
This shortfall in cross-organisational cooperation, common across all those with whom we spoke, suggests that there may still be an opportunity for new participants to adopt a prominent role in the discourse.
This represents an exciting shift since it means finally facing the opportunities, and challenges, of omni-channel engagement. As organisations increasingly seek to demonstrate action and purpose in a holistic and strategic manner, the corporate communications function will also be required to engage holistically across all stakeholder groups in an integrated fashion.
The report is available to download here.