At the end of 2018, I looked through my notes at the 243 Sharing Information on Progress Reports (SIP) that had been submitted that year. I wanted to take a closer look at how signatories were engaging in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or at least how they were reporting on that engagement within their SIP reports.
There were many interesting approaches shared through SIPs last year. The breath and scope of the activities taking place in Business Schools is impressive. These are also, of course, necessary given the importance and urgency of the SDGs, as well as their relevance to graduates.
While one usually likes to hear the good news before the not so good news, I found that some of the most interesting insights gathered from this exercise weren’t so much what was included in the reports, but what was missing. In particular this relates to things I felt were missing, but that were easily included and at this stage, should be included. Here are ten things that I was surprised to see were missing from so many of the reports.
- The SDGs themselves. Considering that we are three years in, not enough schools are mentioning the SDGs let alone engaging in them. For example, the vast majority of the reports didn’t provide any explanation of what the SDGs are. A few schools even showed clearly through their reports that they don’t actually know what the SDGs are (by, for example, providing the wrong definition or explanation).
Some schools provided the logos and explanation towards the beginning of their reports as a way of setting the scene and educating readers who might not know what the SDGs are. One school that did this was Weatherhead School of Management (see above).
- The importance of the SDGs for business schools: Not only are the SDGs relevant to business schools, but business schools play an important, and too often under underappreciated, role in reaching the SDGs. However, only a couple of schools comment about this role and the importance of this role in their SIPs. They also fail to comment on the importance of the SDGs to the reporting institutions.
One school that did was La Trobe Business School in Australia. They state towards the beginning of their report: “We recognise the tertiary sector has a unique role in implementing a coordinated and engaged approach to the SDGs by aligning methodologies and whole-of-sector approaches across our activities including in learning and teaching, research, organisational governance, culture and operations of the university, and are guided by frameworks offered by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and institutional memberships including with Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS).” La Trobe Business School”
- The SDGs are only mentioned in parts of the report: In reports that mention the SDGs, The SDGs are mostly mentioned in relation to a sustainability course or centre. Too few reports explore how the SDGs are relevant to, or being included in, other parts of the school including other centres, courses (in particular in the core curriculum) and research.
For example Macquarie Business School in Australia outlines which partnerships the school is engaged in organised by SDG. This includes key and strategic partnerships with business, professional practice, government and academia.
- The SDGs are mentioned too often: While some schools fail to include the SDGs outside of the sustainability course description, some have the opposite issue. Some reports mention the SDGs on every page, at the end of every paragraph. While the SDGs are relevant to many, if not all, of the initiatives taking place in a business school, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is actively making this connection. Therefore placing the SDG logo or number everywhere may not be effective either.
For example, one approach taken was by Kent State University College of Business Administration. They identified which SDGs are most represented in their research and most important to the school in particularly by faculty and students. Their Responsible Leadership Initiative’s future direction will be influenced by these specific SDGs moving forwards. They do still acknowledge their work and impact on the other SDGs as well.
- Connecting the SDGs to strategy: Some reports make the assumption that as an educational institution they are automatically engaged in the SDGs sufficiently. While many schools make no note of how the school is approaching the SDGs, or the importance it places on these, others have clearly connected the SDGs to the school’s strategy including putting in place internal goals and targets in relation to the SDGs or that will enable progress on the SDGs in a particular sector, country or globally.
For example The University of Gothenburg’s strategy for 2017-2021 provides the overall framework for sustainability. It stresses their commitment to the SDGs and their report describes their strategic focus. This includes a recognition of the need to apply even more multi-stakeholder and multi-disciplinary approaches going forward.
The rest of this post will be live on Friday.