The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are rapidly becoming a universal language to understand and change the impact of the private sector. However, translating the 17 goals into concrete, measurable action for businesses remains a challenge. The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) is a bold initiative. They’re making headway on this issue by developing a set of tools to compare and reward business performance against the SDGs; helping to mobilise the private sector as a net contributer to the SDG agenda. ISEAL shares the same ambition and, therefore, supports the WBA’s consultation process.

ISEAL’s membership consists of mission-driven sustainability standards and roundtables, which – like the WBA – aims to define and measure what sustainable performance looks like. The creation and use of such standards systems, often focussed on a specific production process or commodity, are relevant to the WBA’s efforts in several ways. For example, any effort to define corporate SDG performance needs to take account of the impact of global supply chains. In 2017, WWF and ISEAL released a joint report urging businesses to prioritize supply chain action, in particular those businesses that rely on agricultural or soft commodities which are produced by some of the world’s poorest communities. The same message remains relevant here; credible standards systems that cover production or supply chain processes are useful indicators for the development of the WBA benchmarks.

Corporate action should go beyond mere commitments for sourcing sustainable commodities – the SDGs are a call for businesses to invest in their supply chains and support partnerships that drive change on the ground. As with standards systems, the credbility of how benchmarks are developed and implemented is key. With it’s members and other stakeholders, ISEAL has developed a set of good practices and guiding Credibility Principles. As the WBA takes off, we’re keen to share any lessons and experiences to strengthen this process.

Lastly, it’s important to bear in mind that the WBA benchmarks should not be seen as a silver bullet. As with sustainability standards and certification systems, they are one tool among a range of approaches working together. Even so, their potential to steer industry-wide conversations on credible corporate action on the SDGs is significant.

Business leaders know that competition drives action, yet it is our hope that credible benchmarking processes can focus minds on collective action for the 2030 agenda.

Ms. Karin Kreider

Executive Director, ISEAL Alliance