Progress Toward Sustainable Development Goals Slow, Report Finds

Sustainability experts see little progress to date toward achieving the United Nations' seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, a report from GlobeScan and SustainAbility finds.

Based on a survey of more than five hundred sustainability professionals in seventy-four countries, the report, Evaluating Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals (24 pages, PDF), found that only 9 percent of respondents rated overall progress on the sustainable development front as "good," while 54 percent characterized it as "poor" and 36 percent as "neutral." Among individual development goals, efforts were seen to be lagging the most in the areas of reducing inequalities (Goal 10), progress on which 70 percent of respondents rated as poor, followed by improving life below water (Goal 14, 66 percent), improving life on land (Goal 15, 60 percent), and ending poverty (Goal 1, 60 percent). When asked which SDGs were the most important to focus on in driving overall progress toward sustainable development globally, climate action (Goal 13, 39 percent) was the top choice, followed by providing quality education (Goal 4, 26 percent), responsible consumption and production (Goal 12, 24 percent), and building peace, justice, and strong institutions (Goal 16, 24 percent).

The survey also found that while the performance of all types of actors were seen as lackluster, 38 percent and 33 percent of respondents rated the work of nongovernmental organizations and social entrepreneurs as good, compared with the private sector and national governments (5 percent each). Among survey respondents at corporations, 41 percent said their company supported the SDGs as an opportunity to align their core business activities and innovation efforts with society's needs. When asked how their companies were contributing, 51 percent said they were developing products and services to provide solutions in line with the SDGs, while  fewer mentioned providing financing for solutions (12 percent) or increasing philanthropic contributions (4 percent).

"Our research findings underline just how difficult our predicament is, and how much of a need there is now for new forms of leadership enabled by new systems and business models, redefinitions of value, and greater trust in leaders," said Eric Whan, a director at GlobeScan. "It is time for a step change before 2030 comes and goes."

"It is encouraging to see the growing interest of the private sector in the SDGs as well as indications of the business opportunities related to attaining the goals. More than half of the survey's corporate respondents say their companies are developing or planning to develop SDG-related products," said SustainAbility executive director Mark Lee. Many companies are also joining or launching new partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaborations related to the goals. All that said, we will still need more effort from business — and other key players including government — to achieve the ambitious 2030 sustainable development agenda."

"New Survey of Experts Finds Slow Start Towards Sustainable Development Goals." GlobeScan and SustainAbility Press Release 03/16/2017.