How the Sustainable Development Goals can help UAE firms unlock their potential

Hanife Ymer says UAE firms have some way to go to align themselves with global best practice in sustainability



As the world comes to terms with environmental and social changes, including population growth, resource scarcity and climate change, business leaders are under more pressure to respond by building robust and sustainable business models.

Now, more than ever before, governments and organisations are being held accountable for their responses to the issues of sustainability. In this context, the UAE government has drawn up several short-term and long-term sustainability-related goals and has developed national frameworks and guidelines for public and private institutions, aimed at encouraging better performance in relation to sustainability.

This proactive participation by the government has created a growing awareness with regards to the role of government and private sector in relation to social and environmental responsibilities and how they are now critical in driving continued, responsible and sustainable economic growth.

But only national level policy may no longer enough. There is a need for a more concerted global effort and a framework that addresses sustainability and conveys a ‘call to action’ for countries and their private sector, to address social and environmental issues aimed at improving lives in a sustainable and responsible way.

In 2015, UN member nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and outlined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that UN member states have committed to frame their agendas and political policies on over the next 15 years. The SDGs include a set of goals, targets and indicators that aim to help, guide and measure sustainability for both the private and public sector.

The UAE government formed a National Committee on SDGs in January 2017 aiming for adequate implementation of SDGs, with a view to voluntarily report on its progress this year in July. However the UAE Government (and governments across the globe) may require all local stakeholders to play their part, especially the UAE private sector.

According to a KPMG report on SDGs, globally, four in 10 of the world’s 250 largest companies currently discuss the SDGs in their corporate reporting. Large companies in Germany, France and the UK are significantly more likely to report on the SDGs than companies in other countries.

Here in the UAE, already, an increasing number of organisations have incorporated elements of the SDGs into their existing sustainability considerations and approaches, but the gap when compared to global counterparts provides an opportunity for UAE companies to do more.

To fully assess an organisation’s level of maturity when reporting against SDGs, KPMG recently conducted a study of the top 100 largest companies in the UAE to help understand how well the SDGs are currently understood, recognised and linked to their corporate strategy.

The research revealed an increase in overall sustainability reporting, but more detailed analysis specifically on the SDGs, found that there is still room for improvement for the UAE private sector to align with global trends and practices.

Many companies recognise the need to consider and support the SDGs, but they seem to be finding it challenging to translate their support into more specific, actionable and measurable business goals.

So, how can they change this? Companies can begin by trying to ensure the proper implementation of the SDGs, including looking to map their existing activities to the SDGs (as a first step), moving to the setting of targets and KPIs. One important note in developing a response to the SDGs – is the need for companies to consider and be cognisant of the interconnectedness of all the SDGs – with often a focus and success on one goal being driven by the need to support and approach other issues most likely connected to another SDG.

Further, focusing on three key themes – understanding, prioritisation and measurement – and developing each of these in relation to the SDGs can help form the foundation to a company’s response to the SDGs.

Naturally, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, which is why organisations may have to undergo some trial and error before finding the most suitable approach.

A well-planned approach to the SDGs is more likely to help companies to demonstrate how they are supporting them and how the SDGs in turn are driving business value.

Hanife Ymer is head of sustainability services at KPMG Lower Gulf