The Road to Meaningful Engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals: The State of Integration of the Sustainable Development Goals in Large Swedish Companies

University essay from Lunds universitet/Internationella miljöinstitutet

Abstract: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give a vision of the world the international community want to reach by 2030. Businesses have been given a key role in delivering solutions for this end, but businesses’ engagement have not progressed as quickly as anticipated. This study seeks to (1) understand the state of integration of the SDGs among companies on the Large Cap of the Stockholm stock exchange, (2) investigate whether the engagement with the SDGs has increased sustainability engagement, and (3) the practical aspects of this engagement. The purpose is to create knowledge that can inspire other companies to action and increase their positive impact on society, and to help policy makers craft better policies. To answer the first question, a report analysis of the public reports of the companies on the Large Cap was undertaken. The second and third questions were answered through interviews done with sustainability managers from ten of the companies with the most comprehensive reporting practices. About one third of the companies were reporting comprehensively on SDG engagement, but the interviews also revealed that the reporting did not capture the true level of integration in those companies. The interviews showed that about half of the companies had experienced ‘meaningful engagement’, but all foresaw them as becoming more important for strategy-setting in the future. Observations of the practicalities of the engagement were compiled, and key success actions were highlighted. The results were discussed through the lens of institutional theory, resource-based view of the firm, and the upper echelons theory, and suggests that over time the SDGs will give a direction for a new ‘social licence to operate’. The study concludes that the SDGs present a good framework for business to become champions of sustainability, but that more guidance from governments is needed as well.

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