A summary of the Conference proceedings is available here.
Interest in the private sector’s opportunities and responsibilities with respect to sustainable development and human rights has exploded in recent years, reflected both in the rise of environment, social, and governance (ESG) considerations in investment decisions as well as in the growth of voluntary initiatives and mandatory sustainability reporting by companies. This interest has only grown since the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in 2015, which established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defining consensus areas needful of global action.
And yet, real questions remain as to whether this increased recognition of the importance of non-financial variables has resulted or will result in sustainable and responsible corporate practices and improved outcomes on the ground. Indeed, the proliferation of sustainability initiatives and tools has coincided with a worsening of the world’s problems, including the climate crisis, water stress, deforestation, health crises and malnutrition epidemics, and extreme inequality, which have contributed to increased migration, insecurity, wars and terrorism.
One reason that changed practices and improved outcomes have not yet materialized might be a lack of conceptual clarity about what responsible corporate conduct actually entails, particularly in light of the SDGs. Existing standards, frameworks, initiatives and disclosure requirements to guide and evaluate company alignment to the SDGs provide a stepping stone to understanding the intersections of corporate activity and the SDGs, but it is not clear whether those approaches consider the right standards to promote appropriate practices or metrics to assess real world impact, or that they adequately measure progress along the scale and timeline the SDGs demand.
This conference therefore aimed to clearly and rigorously define SDG-aligned corporate activity to bring coherence and rigor to SDG measurement, reporting, and tools. It also took stock of what has already been achieved in terms of identifying relevant metrics and indicators, and in ensuring meaningful reporting and assessment in accordance with those indicators, so that new voluntary and regulatory efforts can build on optimal approaches, and fill gaps where they exist.