RESEARCH REPORT

In brief

In brief

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our global interconnectedness and collective reliance as never before.
  • Sustainable development drives resilience, which is one reason why stakeholders are demanding that businesses rebuild for the better.
  • With the full engagement of the business community, we can still deliver the impact needed to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Responsible business will create new value in the future. The SDGs are our North Star and the time to act is now.


Creating sustainable value through responsible business

Sustainable development drives resilience, which is one reason why stakeholder groups—including consumers, employees and investors—are demanding that businesses rebuild for the better in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the full engagement of the business community, we can still deliver the necessary impact to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and mitigate future economic shocks of COVID-19’s magnitude.

The guidance provided in the SDG Ambition serves as a North Star as company leaders integrate sustainability into their corporate strategies and systems, unlocking shared value for both their business and society. Pursuing these opportunities can translate into competitive advantage, supply chain resiliency and brand trust. The time to deliver is now.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

List of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Stakeholders expect business to step up

Accenture Strategy mapped the impacts of the pandemic to the targets and indicators underlying each of the SDGs. The conclusion: The pandemic poses severe near‑term challenges and hinders longer-term progress against all 17 goals. Stakeholders are demanding sustainable and responsible action from business.

All challenges present opportunities, however. Companies can proactively mitigate the risk of future crises, growing social unrest, and further disruptions to business by addressing these issues head-on.

Companies are realizing value from integrating sustainability into their operations and products. Between 2013 and 2020, companies with consistently high ratings for environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance have outperformed their peers, achieving operating margins 3.7x higher than lower ESG performers and generating 2.6x higher annual total returns to shareholders.

“Companies with high environmental, social and governance performance have outperformed their peers, achieving 3.7x higher operating margins and generating 2.6x higher shareholder returns.”

Every industry has a role to play

Success hinges on collaboration. Industry leadership will be key to identifying partnership opportunities for collective action on challenges we cannot solve on our own. Accenture Strategy examined how twelve industries are uniquely positioned to advance specific SDGs.

Each industry’s impact assessment is based on a combination of factors that span the entirety of its value chain—including its product and service offerings, the composition of its workforce, operational footprint and the regions in which it operates.

Our report sets out three sustainability pathways for each of twelve industry sectors, the potential impact on specific SDGs and the resulting value. The pathways are not exhaustive but demonstrate possibilities.

Fueling positive change

Each industry’s goals towards helping achieve the SDGs should and will look different, yet three key investments will enhance the ability of businesses to achieve their goals:

1. Use ESG data

Utilize real-time ESG data to inform business strategy, transform business models, and enable sustainable decision making.

2. New-skill the workforce

Build workforce skills to respond to the demands of a rapidly changing labor landscape.

3. Invest in technology and innovation

Leverage technology and innovation to fuel economic recovery and societal impact.

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This is a watershed moment in history. The shift toward stakeholder capitalism will be accelerated and amplified, and the focus on sustainable development will be the key to competitiveness and sustained success for businesses moving forward. Purpose-driven leadership will create new value in the future. A new bar has been set. Now who will rise to the occasion?



Kathleen O’Reilly

Lead – Strategy


Peter Lacy

Chief Responsibility Officer and Global Sustainability Services Lead


Karen O’Regan

Managing Director – Accenture Strategy, Ireland Lead


Mikayla Hart

Senior Manager – Accenture Strategy

Contributors

Louise James

Managing Director, Accenture Development Partnerships


Emily Cole

Manager – Accenture Strategy


Sriram Varadarajan

Manager – Accenture Strategy


Manvi Arora

Consultant – Accenture Strategy


Gillian Mellor

Senior Analyst – Accenture Strategy

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