Commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals is not a matter of size

02 December 2021

An analysis of almost 3,000 listed firms showed interesting patterns in clusters of nations as well as in specific sectors and industries.

With less than nine years left to achieve the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations (UN), we have analyzed the support from stock-listed companies. Many companies have joined the global partnership that shares the beliefs expressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Because of their economic impact and their interactions with employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, and other stakeholders, these companies have the potential for significant influence toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

We found interesting patterns in the support for certain goals in clusters of nations as well as in specific sectors and industries. The data shows that support for the UN SDGs is not primarily a question of company size—there was only a slightly positive correlation between market capitalization and support. Although the availability of resources has an impact on a company’s set of activities, intuitively, commitment for a sustainable future should not be a matter of company size.

Work and economic growth as the core domain

The Refinitiv ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) dataset we analyzed consists of almost 3,000 companies. More than 86 percent supported SDG 8, “Decent Work and Economic Growth”. This makes sense, as it is the core domain of the firms. 84 percent of them backed SDG 13, “Climate Action”, in second place, which shows a great awareness of this topic. 74 percent of the companies supported SDG 12, “Responsible Consumption and Production”, which is also closely related to the companies’ main activities. SDG 1, “No Hunger”, SDG 14, “Life Below Water”, and SDG 2, “Zero Hunger”, were the least frequently supported goals.

A small number (7 percent) supported all 17 SDGs. Most firms, however, focused on five to nine goals. The most common constellation was to support six goals.

The priorities of companies differed by economic sector. Technology, Industrials, Financials, and Consumer Cyclicals primarily supported SDG 8, “Decent Work and Economic Growth”. Not surprisingly, SDG 3, “Good Health and Well-Being”, was the top priority in the Healthcare sector. Utilities predominantly supported SDG 7, “Clean and Affordable Energy”. The primary objective in the Energy and Basic Materials sector was SDG 13, “Climate Action”. Telecommunication Services companies put SDG 4, “Quality Education”, in front, and Consumer Non-Cyclicals favored SDG 12, “Responsible Production and Consumption”.

Socioeconomic and geographic clusters

By performing a nation-wise cluster analysis regarding similarities in support of the SDGs, we found combinations of geographically close countries, but also of nations in similar socioeconomic situations or with common cultural backgrounds. For example, the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland) were in one group; Mexico, Indonesia, India, and China formed another group. One cluster consisted of the US, the UK, Germany, and Switzerland; and a fourth cluster comprised several francophone countries.

The next years will show whether more companies embrace support for the UN SDGs. There is much room for it, as we identified more than 5,000 companies that have not yet expressed their commitment.