Private sector investment and innovation are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A vanguard of companies is making public commitments and taking action. Yet, business engagement and impact are far from becoming mainstream. A concerted effort is required to scale the quantity, quality, and accountability of private sector activities that could have a measurable impact on supporting the SDGs.  

In the 12th U.N. Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study, released in 2023, 98 percent of more than 2,600 chief executives across 18 industries in 128 countries agreed that sustainability is now core to their role. While 87 percent warned that current levels of geopolitical and economic disruption are limiting the delivery of the SDGs, 51 percent believe they could play a critical role to help achieve the goals with increased commitment and action.  

In many cases, however, implementation is lagging behind public pledges and ambition. KPMG’s 2022 Survey of Sustainability Reporting found that 74 percent of the world’s largest 250 companies by revenue are reporting on the SDGs. Yet, only 10 percent are reporting on all 17 Goals, and only 6 percent are reporting on their negative as well as positive impacts. Another study by the Global Reporting Initiative and Support the Goals found that 83 percent of 206 companies surveyed in 2021 said they support the SDGs, but only 40 percent set measurable commitments and only 20 percent included evidence to assess their impacts.    

What needs to change? Three areas of collective action will be essential. 

  1. Standardize and require measures of corporate accountability
  2. Leverage investment in innovation accelerators and collaborative platforms
  3. Advocate for enabling policies through business coalitions

Read the full article about private sector investment in the SDGs by Jane Nelson and George Ingram at Brookings.