UN Sustainable Development Goals: How Companies Stack Up
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UN Sustainable Development Goals: How Companies Stack Up

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Sustainable Development Goals

The UN SDGs: How Companies Stack Up

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing witnessed a breakthrough year in 2020 with the most fund inflows on record.

Importantly, for companies that are judged according to ESG metrics, one way to track their progress is through their alignment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Established in 2012, the UN SDGs are a blueprint for creating a more sustainable future by 2030 that have been adopted by 193 countries worldwide.

As investors and stakeholders pay closer attention to sustainability concerns, this graphic from MSCI breaks down how companies stack up according to their alignment to the UN SDGs.

How Were Companies Measured?

To track companies net contribution to the UN SDGs, companies were scored by their positive or negative contribution to each of the 17 goals.

The 17 UN SDGs are designed to achieve three primary objectives by 2030:

  • Protect the planet
  • End poverty
  • Create prosperity and peace for all

Specifically, the framework centers on a discussion paper that was developed in partnership with the OECD in 2018. Company policies, operations, products and services, and practices are analyzed according to reported and publicly available information.

Tracking the Alignment of Companies

Across a universe of 8,550 companies in the MSCI All Country World Index, constituents were measured from strongly aligned to strongly misaligned to the UN SDGs.

Sustainable
Development Goal
Strongly
Aligned
AlignedMisalignedStrongly
Misaligned
1No Poverty089215532
2Zero Hunger24234300
3Good Health and Well-being031514129
4Quality Education831520
5Gender Equality0109290
6Clean Water and Sanitation173253610
7Affordable and Clean Energy43639109587
8Decent Work and Economic Growth2512695217
9Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure688441379
10Reduced Inequality082812731
11Sustainable Cities and Communities0016719
12Responsible Consumption and Production115855150598
13Climate Action2759495587
14Life Below Water03615192
15Life on Land0012817
16Peace and Justice Strong Institutions013524127
17Partnerships to Achieve the Goal040115222

Source: MSCI ESG Research LLC as of August 11, 2020

Broadly speaking, companies fell mostly in the middle—roughly 38% were aligned while almost 55% were misaligned or neutral. Meanwhile, just 0.2% of companies were strongly aligned to the UN SDGs.

Overall, one of the most strongly aligned goals was Responsible Production and Consumption, with 115 companies meeting this criteria. Specifically, these include companies that are building sustainable infrastructure, energy efficiency, or creating green jobs.

Interestingly, the worst performing goal was also Responsible Production and Consumption, with over five times as many companies (598) strongly misaligned. Along with this goal, both Climate Action and Affordable and Clean Energy each had over 500 companies strongly misaligned.

UN SDGs: A Sector Focus

Unsurprisingly, SDG-alignment varied widely according to company sectors.

Educational companies, for instance, represented the highest level of alignment to Gender Equality. Meanwhile, 18% of 425 utilities companies assessed ended up aligning with Clean and Affordable Energy goals.

As one would expect, the energy sector lagged behind. In 2020, fossil fuels were a key source of revenue for 91% of the companies in the energy business. In fact, just three companies derived over 50% of their revenues from green alternatives: REX American Resources, Renewable Energy Group, and Verbio.

A Call to Action?

Despite the growing wave of interest in ESG investing, the reality is that progress to meet the UN SDGs has been slower going than expected.

However, a greater number of individuals, stakeholders, and activists are sounding the alarm. Today, over 3,000 signatories representing trillions in assets under management have committed to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment, which has established six key actions for ESG investing. Now, many companies are required to report their ESG disclosures in Europe.

Along with these key markers of progress, investors can move the dial by tracking a company’s alignment to sustainable development goals.

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Technology

Infographic: 11 Tech Trends to Watch in 2023

This infographic highlights eleven exciting areas within the world of technology worth keeping an eye on in 2023.

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11 Tech Trends

Infographic: 11 Tech Trends to Watch in 2023

It can be tough to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation.

Each new year delivers the full spectrum of progress from game-changing breakthroughs to incremental advancements in a wide variety of fields.

In a noisy media landscape fueled by hype and speculation, it can be tough to know where true value is being created. The infographic above, which draws from CB Insights’ recent report on 11 Tech Trends To Watch Closely in 2023, helps narrow down some areas of focus:

  1. Immortality-as-a-service
  2. The secret invasion of super apps
  3. Fintech’s rapid regeneration
  4. Bots in the house
  5. Virtual power plants
  6. Healthcare’s invisibility trick
  7. Smell goes digital
  8. Femtech turns to menopause
  9. The bio-based materials boom
  10. India’s tech ascent
  11. Regenerative agtech takes root

The report draws information from earnings transcripts, media mentions, investment activity, patents, and more to arrive at the trends listed.

We’ll examine three of these trends below in a bit more detail.

Setting the Stage: Clash of the Super Apps

The concept of a super app⁠—an all-in-one smartphone application that integrates a wide range of services⁠—is far from new. In fact, for years now, WeChat has been the go-to app for many Chinese citizens to chat, order services, pay bills, and more.

A natural question comes to mind: why doesn’t an app like that exist in Western countries yet? Well, there are a couple of key reasons:

  1. Consumers and regulators alike are wary of providers holding so much personal information and power. In China, WeChat actually had government support, integrating public services into the app. As well, expectations of personal privacy are completely different in China than in Western countries
  2. Unlike China, which rapidly adopted digital payments, North America and Europe had preexisting near-ubiquitous financial networks in place. Super apps were a game changer for millions of unbanked consumers in China and beyond.

The situation is changing rapidly though, and 2023 could be the year that the foundations are laid for a clash of various Big Tech incarnations of the super app.

In late 2022, Microsoft was rumored to be building a super app using Bing as the foundation, and recent investment into ChatGPT adds fuel to that fire. Even Elon Musk hinted at his ambitions to turn Twitter into a one-stop-shop for just about everything.

There are still significant barriers to bundling a plethora of services into a single app, but that isn’t stopping companies from racing to be the one to do it. To the victor go the spoils.

The Resiliency of Life Extension

The concepts of immortality and age reversal have been a preoccupation of mankind since the dawn of time, so it stands to reason that technology that promises extra lifespan and quality of life continues to be compelling for individuals and investors alike.

Players in this space can approach life extension and anti-aging from a number of different angles, from supplements to tinkering at the cellular level.

Two high-profile examples in this space are Calico, which is a subsidiary of Alphabet, and the Jeff Bezos-backed Altos Labs. Other billionaires have expressed an interest in life extension as well, including Peter Thiel, who has definitive views on mortality.

I believe if we could enable people to live forever, we should do that. […] I think it is against human nature not to fight death. – Peter Thiel

In 2023, look for more investment and news from startups focused on gene therapy, genome analysis, regenerative medicine, or “longevity in a pill”.

Beyond Plastic: The Bio-Based Materials Boom

Public pressure is mounting for producers of consumer goods to change the way they manufacture their products.

The good news is that many of the largest producers of consumer packaged goods and apparel have some kind of plan in place to use more post-consumer recycled plastic in their products. The bad news is that not enough plastic is recycled globally for companies to source enough material to produce their products more sustainably. As a result, many companies are exploring the option of ditching plastic entirely.

For example, materials derived from seaweed are an active area of innovation right now. Mushrooms and algae are also commonly-used materials from nature that are being used to create biodegradable products. In one particularly interesting example, a company called MycoWorks recently began working with GM Ventures to explore the use of mycelium-based leather alternatives in GM’s vehicles.

While researchers and companies are just scratching the surface of what’s possible, consumers are likely to see more tangible examples of bio-based materials popping up in stores. After all, brands will be very eager to talk about their increasingly plastic-free product lines.

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