Research by Paia, November 2020
The SDGs (or Sustainable Development Goals) are 17 goals containing 169 targets that all countries (including Singapore) have signed up to meet by 2030 to address inequality, hunger and tackle climate change (amongst other things).
To achieve the goals, the private sector undoubtedly needs to play a significant part. Just like other ESG endeavors, private sector contribution to the SDGs represent a huge business opportunity.
In Asia alone, business leaders can unlock an estimated US$5 trillion and generate 230 million jobs, by pursuing strategies aligned with the Global Goals.
Globally, there are economic opportunities across 60 “hot spots” that are worth up to US$12 trillion, with a potential to create 380 million jobs by 2030.
Through our independent research, Paia has taken a look at how the top 100 SGX-listed companies are performing against the SDGs, and identified where more action is needed.
In 2015, the United Nations set an agenda to address global environmental, social, and economic challenges such as social and economic inequalities, hunger, environmental degradation, and climate change.
17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) were agreed by all countries – with each country developing specific plans to address each goal (and the associated targets) based on their stage of economic development.
These 17 goals supersede the 8 Millennium Development Goals identified in 2000 to tackle global poverty.
It has been 5 years since the goals were agreed. How well are Singaporean companies doing in incorporating these goals into their company’s strategic sustainability initiatives as well as their day to day business?
To answer this question, we examined the annual or sustainability reports of the top 100 Singaporean companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) (by market cap, as of April 2020) to see if they were reporting on their contribution to the SDGs, and if so how well?
How are Singaporean companies doing?
We found that 57 out of the 100 top SGX listed companies incorporated SDGs into their sustainability or annual reports (Figure 1). This is a 23% increase from last year, where only 34 out of 100 top SGX-listed companies (as of early 2019) reported on the SDGs.
Companies were considered to have identified the SDGs if they have mentioned specific Goals the company can and/or is able to contribute to through their operations/business activities.
The three SDGs which featured most consistently in the 57 companies reporting include:
- Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG 8),
- Climate Action (SDG 13); and,
- Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG 3)
Last year, interestingly, the top three SDGs reported on were, SDG8, SDG12 and SDG 13 – holistically covering economic, environment and social aspects. Particularly, the increased focus and alignment with SDG 3 is timely as companies and the world attempts to recover from a global pandemic. Going forward, we can expect greater alignment to climate action as Singapore increasingly positions itself as a global hub for low carbon solutions and climate finance.
Figure 2 below shows the number of times each of the 17 SDGs were referenced by the 57 companies who incorporate SDG information in their sustainability/ annual report.
What can we conclude?
There is definitely improvement from previous years on SDG reporting. With less than half of the top 100 SGX-listed companies reporting in 2019, to there being close to 60% of companies reporting on the Goals this year.
Incorporating SDG related activities into company reporting is voluntary. The fact that 57% of the top SGX companies mentioned the SDGs is commendable.
Companies also reported they were working on initiatives aligned with the SDGs, even if they did not mention these initiatives explicitly. Many companies also stated they intend to incorporate SDGs into their future reports.
However, Singapore companies could do well to better align to Goal-specific targets, such as the 13 targets for Goal 3, listed in Figure 3. Each target under the SDGs also contain various indicators that might be helpful for companies and organisations to include in their reporting, or have strategic oversight for.
Figure 3. Targets of Sustainable Development Goal 3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, WHO
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives and livelihoods, many of noted the impact of the health, social and economic crises on the progress towards achieving the SDGs. This makes urgent action ever more necessary.
With less than 10 years left to achieve the Global Goals, businesses will need to work alongside government and civil society counterparts to pursue a Decade of Action towards 2030, through a collaborative approach.
 Better Business, Better World: Asia report (June 2017) by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC)