Net Zero Emissions: How UK Companies Are Trying to Achieve the SDGs


  • Sustainable Development Goals have been gaining a lot of attention in the last couple of years
  • Britain has retained its position as one of the top 14 nations in the world, with SDG reporting rates above 90%.

United Nations (UNs) blueprint for peace and prosperity is imbibed in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which forms the central part of its sustainable development agenda by 2030.

Sustainable Development Goals have been gaining a lot of attention in the last couple of years. SDGs were adopted in September 2015 after all 193 Member States in the United Nations decided to work together towards ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and protecting our planet from extreme events such as climate change and calamities due to that.

The UK government in 2015 committed to achieve all the UN SDGs by 2030. In about three years, in 2018, the UK Government claimed to have achieved the following:

  • A high-quality, free-for-all health service.
  • High and rising standards of education.
  • Increase in employment, with more women and disabled people being given work.
  • Considerable progress on climate and the environment.
  • The world’s toughest legislation on equality concerns.

While individual governments are working towards achieving SDGs, even corporates, regardless of the industry they belong to or their size, can contribute to these goals. But when it comes to companies adopting SDGs, the trend is quite dismal across the world and even in the UK.

According to a KPMG report, released in 2018, covering data for 2016-17, just 40% of the world’s businesses incorporated SDGs in their business modules, which also involves pushing out a report on sustainability apart from other metrics. UK companies not incorporating SDGs were higher than average at 60%, while the US companies were well below that level, at 31%, according to the 2018 report.

In fact, the numbers are going down, according to the latest KPMG International’s Survey of Sustainability Reporting, released in 2020, covering the 2018-19 period. In the last few years, Britain has retained its position as one of the top 14 nations in the world with SDG reporting rates above 90%. But the 2020 KPMG report stated that the country slipped behind Sweden (98%), Spain (98%) and France (97%) in 2018-19.

SDG reporting by top companies

As per the 2020 report, only 87% of the top 100 companies in the UK provide some sustainability information in their annual reports, which is the highest among all European countries and the second highest in the G10 group of countries, behind Japan (96%).

Some of the forward-thinking companies in the UK are Coca-Cola, Dong Energy, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Nestlé, and Ikea, which have committed to achieve SDGs in their own ways.

Companies such as AstraZeneca in the pharmaceuticals sector, which are at the forefront because of the production of Covid-19 vaccine, have brought forward their plans for complete decarbonisation by 2030.

Similarly, Unilever, is focusing its efforts on sourcing products sustainably, particularly those that come from farms and forests.

Way ahead

If we talk about investments for the SDGs, according to various estimates, around US $5-7 trillion is needed per year for projects and programmes to achieve the goals by 2030. According to a recent study by UNCTAD, the investment gap in most countries is approximately US $2.5 trillion per year. The private sector can play an important role in closing this gap, but factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the process.

In the next few years, though, such efforts will be under stress due to the pandemic and its aftereffects. However, one can expect healthcare, education and finance to present attractive impact investing opportunities.  

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