How do Belgian companies and organizations handle the SDGs now and how can they do more in the future?
This research question was the basis of the SDG Barometer, which was elaborated by Antwerp Management School together with Louvain School of Management & the University of Antwerp. The results were presented for the first time at the SDG Forum (October 23, Flagey).
This is the very first time the SDG Barometer outlines the sustainability landscape at a national level.
In 2016 the SDGs were adopted in most countries in the world. Since then, many countries have launched awareness campaigns to familiarize businesses, authorities and organizations from the social spectrum with the SDGs. This also was and still is the case in Belgium and its regions and communities.
To find out the status of the adoption of the SDGs, the first Belgian SDG Barometer has been elaborated. This project was a partnership with CIFAL Flanders, The Shift, VBO/FEB, VOKA, UWE, Agoria, Febelfin, Essenscia, Fevia. It could also count on the support of FIDO (Federal Institute for Sustainable Development) and ING.
About two thirds take action...
About two thirds (of the 409 companies and other organizations) say they are actively working on introducing SDGs in their operations. To achieve this, sometimes they will call on the services of external partners. Studies at an international level (Globescan 2016) indicate that Belgium scores relatively well. The majority of businesses or organizations even appointed an individual to steer the introduction of the SDGs in the right direction. However, there is still room for improvement, as about a quarter of the respondents don't know what the SDGs consist of.
An important remark is that 35% of the organizations who have not yet adopted the SDGs want to do so in the future only if they can go for quick wins, such as recycling, reusable batteries, etc. Commendable measures as such, but our experience indicates that it is much more effective to incorporate the SDGs in the general business strategy or the existing sustainability strategy. This is already the case for 67% of the respondents,” Prof. Valérie Swaen of Louvain School of Management confirms.
Global challenges, such as climate change or inequality constitute the main motivations for Belgian businesses and organizations to adopt the SDGs. Boosting their innovation and improving their competitive strength are also important motives. Whatever their motivation may be, 9 out of 10 Belgian businesses and organizations are inclined to integrate the SDGs into their sustainability policy.
It is notable that Belgian companies see internal stakeholders as the most important barrier for starting to work with SDGs. Respondents refer to stakeholders such as management, employees, shareholders, etc. This remarkable finding also raises questions about the support for SDGs within a company or organization. Apart from that, there are other barriers, such as the perception that the SDGs don't offer any advantages, or the lack of financial means.
SDGs are not sufficiently seen as a coherent unit
A small minority of the respondents consider the 17 SGDs as an entity, where each one is equally important. In that respect Befimmo is one of the better scoring companies. This real estate company uses the SDGs to improve its sustainability strategy and to integrate sustainability in the general business strategy. Based on an impact analysis of its core activities on SDGs, this business has incorporated 15 of the 17 SDGs in its general operational management.
A large majority only choose the SDGs that they consider to be most relevant for their own business or organization. As such, it is not a coincidence that SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) is the most popular one. The SDG Barometer therefore points out a fundamental issue of 'rainbow washing' with the color palette of the SDG logos. From day one of their original adoption, the United Nations have underlined the coherent and integral character of the set of SDGs. Prominent sustainability thinkers like prof. Wayne Visser have already warned about 'cherry picking', which gives the SDGs a rather legitimizing function, without a transformative power.