09 Mar 2020

UN SDG Materiality Assessment Explained

Posted in: Sustainable Development

It’s a material world – Sustainable Development Goals Materiality Assessment

So you’ve begun to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals because you think they’re really important to your organisation. But you don’t know where to start, because there’s so many. Tackling all 17 could be quite daunting, so aligning your organisation with a select few of the goals can focus your activity and have real impact. With that in mind, we bring in the next instalment in how to embed the SDGs into your business.

(Need a refresh on the previous step? Learn how to kick-start the SDGs in your business here).

How to do a materiality assessment  Materiality assessment for the SDGs

A materiality assessment is the next key step to really identify which goals really matter to your organisation, and where you can have real, measurable impact. What is important to our business? What is vital? What are the real issues that matter?

So how do you go about it?

Step 1 - Put together a team

Firstly, you identify a starter group of individuals within your organisation. This is usually the project champion and internal sponsors like a line manager or senior executive. This small group puts down all the activities your business organisation does - that might include activities in procurement, manufacturing or servicing.

Actively considering all your organisation’s activities shakes out people that should be in the room to represent the diversity of issues across the organisation, which will form the basis of your main working group. This group can sometimes include key stakeholders from outside the organisation. There is a real value in bringing together a broad set of people that can look across issues that are material to the business.

Step 2 - Think about your business impact

Next, this group knuckles down to brainstorm areas of your business that have positive or negative impacts on the SDGs, both now and for the future.

Here’s a few fictitious examples to demonstrate:

Now that you’ve brainstormed all the issues, the working group then identify stakeholder groups that are relevant to those issues, and should be consulted about your organisations impact on the SDGs in these areas.

To follow on from the previous examples:

  • for the engineering firm, it may be the Women in Engineering Association
  • for the soap manufacturer, it may be a certification body or a supply chain specialist
  • for the accommodation provider, it might be an organisation that specialises in employee welfare

That will produce a pretty large list of stakeholder groups. Its size can a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry, the next part of the process is about honing that list down to the groups that really matter.

Step 3 - Develop your engagement strategy

Decide what metrics are important for your organisation to structure how you reach out to your stakeholders. For instance, an organisation could map “who cares about sustainability” against “who has influence/power over the organisation”. Below we’ve plotted a few stakeholder groups against these metrics as an example of how to visualise it.

Stakeholder Mapping

Then this naturally categorises these groups in four different quadrants. We can use these quadrants to decide which groups we wish to actively or passively, engage or inform about real material issues.

Stakeholder Mapping

In this example, the upper right quadrant are groups with lots of influence and a strong concern about sustainability. Groups in that quadrant should be actively engaged with. Whereas, you wouldn’t put too much effort into engaging with groups in the low influence/low concern about sustainability. In fact, you’d probably just check industry trends in this example.

In short, mapping enables you to focus down to a handful of achievable activities for the organisation to get working on.

Where to next?

Well, that’s where the fun starts – stakeholder engagement. As a tip, having a third party facilitate these discussions is helpful. They can also help you understand and analyse the results of your engagement and develop an action plan and communicate the outcomes.  More info to complete your materiality assessment in our next article in the series on embedding SDGs in business.