Why Stakeholder Engagement is the First Step to Reach Your SDGs

November 30 2020

The world has a plan to end poverty, fight inequality and save the planet from climate change – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs contain 17 goals and 169 targets. The plan sounds lofty and daunting, right? Even so, the SDGs are forming part of the DNA of business, government and civil society.

For business and PR pros, the good news is the key for taking the first step to choosing SDGs is found among the people and organisations that hold a stake in any company.

Those issues around people, planet and profit that influence the decisions of stakeholders about a company is a starting point for knowing which SDGs are relevant to a company.

These issues, together with the impacts of a company’s activity on others, are the focus of a materiality assessment – a piece of work that identifies key material sustainability topics.

A materiality assessment requires stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement underpins the principled prioritisation of material sustainability topics. For PR pros – consultants who specialise in managing relations between a company and its publics – this is an opportunity.

The AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standards set the bar for best practice in stakeholder engagement, as do the GRI Standards for doing a materiality assessment.

By assisting a company to listen to a wide range of voices (stakeholders affected by the operations of a company, experts, and staff) PR pros help a company take that first step towards the SDGs.

By knowing which sustainability topics matter a company can identify the SDGs that are most relevant to the risks for and impacts of the company and where it can align with the SDGs.

Stakeholder engagement does not end once a company has prioritised the SDGs. Stakeholders will want to know what actions are being taken on the goals and whether progress is being made. Transparency and inclusivity are trademarks of sustainable development.

Being sustainable often requires a company to be imaginative. Some of the best ideas for making a positive social, economic or environmental impact emerge from collaboration with stakeholders. This is because the complexity of sustainability problems demands a wisdom borne of multiple perspectives.  It’s another reason to keep engaging with stakeholders.

Stakeholder engagement is going to be more relevant than ever in the coming years. The urgency for corporate sustainability is changing capitalism. There is a shift from shareholder primacy to stakeholder capitalism as businesses recognise that they must serve shareholders and stakeholders — employees, customers, public schools, homeless and the planet.

Now, for any PR pro who is unsure whether their consultancy is ‘match fit’ to assist a company reach their SDGs, here are three steps to boost your sustainability practice. 

The secret to success in business is the same for sustainability. It comes back to who you know. Therefore, stakeholder engagement is the first step a company takes to reach the SDGs.

Mark Paterson
Principal, Currie
Mark is a strategist, storyteller and change agent. He thrives on the big picture and is a champion for sustainability. As a sense-maker and stubborn optimist, he helps organisations find their voice and see their future more clearly. The son of Corgi breeders, Mark would like to change the world for the better.