The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed by the United Nations (UN) in 2015 as a comprehensive package of targets to meaningfully enhance – by 2030 – economic prosperity and social well-being while protecting the environment.

While Governments, NGOs and business associations around the world have thrown their weight behind the SDGs, a number of important questions and uncertainties remain. For a start, why do some companies express commitments to the SDGs and others not? How do companies respond in their strategies – that is, how do they choose and prioritize SDGs as salient to their business; how do they create corresponding organization-level targets; and how do they seek to achieve these targets, either independently or in collaboration with others? How do they grapple with tensions or trade-offs between SDGs? Finally, how do (or might) tools such as the SDG Action Manager help in this process of developing and implementing SDG responsive strategies?

We know relatively little about why and how companies respond strategically to the SDGs. This is important because the scope and urgency of responding to the SDGs are in many ways unprecedented, so we cannot easily extrapolate prior knowledge on corporate strategy or sustainability management in this domain. We thus also lack knowledge on how SDG-specific processes of strategy-making and implementation may be supported. A particularly important need is to better understand – and to address practically – both synergies and trade-offs among the SDGs in corporate responses.

For instance, arguably one of the most prominent and politically controversial trade-offs is between SDG 13: Climate Action and SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth. One of the key reasons for this is because many climate action efforts involve scaling down fossil fuel reliant energy generation, and this often leads to job losses in those industries. Yet, we still know little about how corporate managers seek to address trade-offs between conflicting prescriptions associated with the SDGs – including in particular the above-mentioned trade-off between climate action and decent work. 

Finally, all of the above practical and scholarly questions have become all the more salient and pronounced due to the current Covid-19 crisis. The crisis has cast into stark relief corporate interdependencies with their social and ecological context. There is thus much to be learnt about how corporate managers are seeking to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and how this relates to the above questions about corporate responses to the SDGs.

Image by Eva Blue

Research Questions

  • How are African companies integrating the SDGs into their strategies? Specifically, how are they prioritizing SDGs as salient to their business and identifying corresponding organisation-level targets?

  • How are African companies seeking to achieve their organisational targets linked to the SDGs? Specifically, when and how are they working independently or in collaboration with others?

  • In this strategy making and implementation process, how are managers making use of practitioner guidelines such as the SDG Action Manager?

  • How is the Covid-19 crisis affecting all of the above?

  • How is the national context influencing all of the above?