SDGs: How to Translate Words into Action?

By Mark Didden, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

SDGs: How to Translate Words into Action?

As we all know, a few weeks ago the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by UN member states. The question asked by many companies is: “What are the linkages between business and the SDGs?”

Clearly, the SDGs cannot succeed without support from business to design and scale up sustainable solutions. In turn, the SDGs provide opportunities for companies that can develop those solutions, such as growing markets and staying ahead of policy requirements.

Here at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) we are strongly engaged around translating the SDGs’ ambitions and words into business action underpinned by solutions – applying business creativity and innovation to solve sustainable development challenges.

Why? For starters, a recently published survey by PwC shows that even though 92% of businesses are aware of the SDGs, only 13% have identified the tools they need to take action. In addition, three quarters of companies indicate they are planning to take action, whereas only one third are setting goals aligned with the SDGs that are relevant to their business.

SDG Compass: The guide for business action

This is where the SDG Compass, the guide for business action on SDGs, can help. Developed by the WBCSD in partnership with the UN Global Compact and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), the SDG Compass explains how the SDGs affect businesses – offering the tools and knowledge to put sustainability at the heart of their strategy.

Concretely, what does the SDG Compass do?

  • It explains that companies should focus their action on the SDGs most relevant to their business. This does not mean that companies should cherry-pick SDGs. Instead, the guide encourages them to assess on which SDGs they have the highest impact, current and future, positive and negative. Such an impact can occur anywhere in the company’s value chain, upstream at supplier, at company operations, and downstream through use, and end-of-life, of products. Companies are encouraged to reduce their negative impact and increase their positive impact, and set their priorities accordingly. Of course such priorities are in addition to companies’ baseline responsibilities of complying with all relevant legislation, respect international minimum standards and address as a priority all negative human rights impacts.
  • In additional, it explains how companies can set goals reflecting the global ambition that the SDGs represent, as today’s corporate practice of incremental improvement is not enough to meet global challenges. The SDG Compass also makes suggestions on how companies can achieve those goals by integrating sustainability into their core strategy and engaging in partnerships.
  • Finally, it encourages companies to report on their impact on the SDGs. As the SDGs will provide a common language on sustainable development, they may help companies prioritize their reporting narrative and the type of performance disclosures to best serve the needs of their stakeholders.

The SDG Compass guide is supported by a number of online resources, including live inventories of existing business indictors and tools mapped against the SDGs. All the information can be accessed at and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop me a note at di****@wb***.org.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks Mark.  The SDG Compass is a really practical tool for all businesses of whatever size to map their activities on to the somewhat complex landscape of the SDGs and come away with specific actions which will not only do development good but which will also be good for their business.

    In my view, every responsible enterprise should undertake this mapping as soon as possible and the WBCSD’s tools provide an accessible and straightforward “on ramp” for getting that process started.



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