Thursday, December 12, 2019
Robert Eccles Says the UN SDGs Are Influencing Business in Terms of Rhetoric, but not Much Else
In this week’s blog, I share perspectives from well-known ESG expert Robert Eccles, currently a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School and Said Business School at Oxford University, who kicked off the webinar. In typical fashion, Eccles didn’t hold anything back.
“The SDGs are influencing business in terms of rhetoric, but not too much else, especially in terms of action,” he said. “All this talk about the SDGs and the private sector …. I’m dubious how much will happen. The tension is that the SDGs are about achieving positive externalities, and materiality assessments are about financial materiality.”
He shared results of an analysis he worked on with other academics looking at the SASB materiality framework and the SDGs. Mapping the 77 industries in the SASB standard to the SDGs, he found some financial material issues touch most of the SDGs. An example is supply chain. Others not so much, such as data privacy. His analysis also found some industries – such as health care and natural resources – have the ability to make greater contributions to the SDGs than others, such as financial services.
The biggest challenge however facing companies he said is the lack of metrics to measure true impact of corporate performance on the SDGs. He cited three multi-stakeholder groups now working to develop impact metrics that would show how companies are positively contributing to the SDGs: The Impact Management Project, the Value Balancing Alliance, and the Impact-Weighted Accounts Project.
He believes these three efforts need to come together and reach consensus on standards and methodology for impact reporting, together with the private sector and investors. Only then will the clear impact be understood.
Stay tuned for my next blog with insights from Denise Weger, Senior Manager Strategic Initiatives Global Health & Corporate Responsibility, at Novartis.