Looking at corporate sustainability reports from the top 150 Australian public-listed companies (ASX150), the research team assessed how each business had measured and disclosed their awareness of, commitment to and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) year-on-year.
The report found that despite a growing number of companies reporting a commitment to the SDGs from 2018 to 2019, very few disclosed measurable business performance targets related to the goals. There were also very few companies providing context on changes put in place to address the goals.
Lead author, Professor Nava Subramaniam, Deputy Dean of Research and Innovation at RMIT’s School of Accounting, Information Systems and Supply Chain, said a lack of standardised guidelines for reporting on the SDGs was making it difficult to hold Australian companies accountable.
“There are a number of reporting frameworks and guidelines including the GRI standards that companies can adopt for sustainability reporting,” she said.
“However, the voluntary nature of reporting and the lack of a systematic approach to linking business goals with the SDGs results in little to no consistency in SDG prioritization and reporting across the board.”
She said the presence and quality of SDG reporting by Australian companies was in its infancy, so now was the time to define what best practice looks like and agree on a framework that holds everyone accountable to the same standards.
The report also highlighted the increasing disclosure requirements relating to risks associated with human rights, gender inequality, climate change and more faced by Australian companies.
These requirements have been brought about by regulatory developments and initiatives such as Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018 and the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD).
Many of these issues overlap with the SDGs and require Australian businesses to invest in reliable and effective sustainability reporting systems.