Companies Are Announcing Sustainability Pledges, But More Needs to be Done

April 14, 2021
The proportion of experts who say progress on sustainable development has been poor has increased from 49% to 54% over the past two years.

In 2019, Unilever announced the largest ever cut in plastic use. They agreed to cut virgin plastic usage by 50% by 2025, including the total elimination of 100,000 tons of plastic packaging by 2025.

Other companies have followed suit over the past couple of years. This year is no different and in March 2021 Mondelez International agreed to a 5% reduction in virgin plastic use, including a 25% cut in virgin plastic across its business units and will announce the size of the goal later in 2021 and not to be left behind Keurig Dr. Pepper reached an agreement with As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group.

Even corporate executives are being recognized for their efforts. Green Biz released a study called "20 C-suite sustainability champions for 2021." Companies mentioned include GM, Starbucks and Solvay. Even Barbie is in on the trend with Lisa McKnight; Senior Vice President, Global Head of Barbie; Mattel noted as a champion of the environment.

While all of these are positive moves, there is still work to be done. The SustainAbility Institute of ERM, asked 500 experienced sustainability professionals in 75 countries to evaluate the progress that has been made on sustainable development as measured against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Experts were also asked how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the progress of the goals. 

Key findings include the following:

  • Sustainability professionals continue to be critical about overall progress made on sustainable development. The proportion of experts who say progress on sustainable development has been poor has increased from 49% to 54% over the past two years, with European experts and those working in the Academic and Research sectors being the most negative about global progress.
  • Experts agree that Climate Action (#13) is the most urgent of the sustainable development goals. When asked to pick the three goals that require the most urgent action, 61% chose Climate Action, followed by Life on Land, Reduced Inequalities, and Sustainable Production and Consumption (#12) (each mentioned by 22% of respondents).
  • More than half of experts say the COVID-19 pandemic will slow progress on the goals. When asked how the current pandemic and its economic impacts will affect society’s progress toward achieving the goals over the coming decade, as many as 54% believe that the outbreak will impede advancement. Thirty-six percent instead say it will accelerate positive change, while only one in ten say it will not make any difference.

These pessimistic views upset Mark Lee, director at The SustainAbility Institute by ERM. "It is a great concern that experts continue to rate progress on the SDGs as poor overall and worse today than two years ago, and even more worrisome that they perceive the least progress on the Goals seen as most urgent: Climate Action, Life on Land, Reduced Inequalities, and Sustainable Production and Consumption,” he said in a statement.” The Goals’ ambition and promise are still there, but society must accelerate efforts to deliver them."

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