The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015 by the 193 United Nations (UN) member states. There are 17 goals which integrate economic, environmental and social impacts, and which are designed to form a blueprint for good growth, nationally and internationally, by 2030. They’re underpinned by 169 targets to help define progress.

Unlike their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs apply to developed and developing countries alike. Governments will be looking to business to help achieve the goals, which are expected to frame the agendas and policies of member states until 2030. This may include the possibility of new regulation or taxes. Governments are also likely to want to measure and monitor the effectiveness of their interventions, so business will need to be aware of national ambitions and how they contribute to them.

Our SDG prioritisation matrix

Our approach

Our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems, such as the global goals. As a firm, we contribute to them in a number of ways. Firstly, we create economic and social value through our core services - using our people’s skills and experience to solve some of the world’s most important problems. Our market-leading Sustainability & Climate Change team (S&CC) has been collaborating with the United Nations  to develop tools to help companies understand what the SDGs mean for them, as well as how to prioritise areas for action.  Additionally, we contribute to the debate and play an advocacy role on a number of issues covered by the goals. Indeed, we were one of 80 companies to write an open letter to the UK government in January 2017, calling for prioritisation of the SDGs in the UK and setting out our commitment to help deliver themFinally, we address issues directly in our operations through our approach to Corporate Sustainability and Diversity & Inclusion.

Opportunities and risks

We’ve prioritised the areas we feel are most relevant for our business at the moment, applying the same criteria that we use when advising our clients. These include our S&CC team’s research into the areas where our sector has an impact, and where there are opportunities for our type of business.  We’ve looked at the team’s detailed guidance about how to engage with the goals.  And, we’ve also taken the scoring for the UK from our Global Business Navigator tool, which draws on over 200 data sources to score each country against each SDG target to anticipate potential areas of focus for government policy in the future - recognising that our business depends on a thriving UK economy.

We synthesised these outputs and cross-referenced them with our business activities - our client delivery, our people, our operations and our communities - to create a list of priority goals to focus on, whilst still using the full list as a ‘sense check’ to make sure that we’re helping to contribute to all of the goals in some way. We’ll keep this prioritisation under review.

We haven’t ascribed a priority level to Goal 17, however, as all of the SDGs are dependent on effective partnerships and collaborations. In solving important problems we work with all sectors of society, providing technical advice and resources as appropriate, such as our work with the UN on SDG tools, as described above. In some cases, where we believe it will advance the common good, we’ve made our intellectual property ‘open source’ – as in the case of our Total Impact and Natural Capital Accounting methodologies.


The priority we’ve initially attributed to each goal, together with key actions we’re taking to support them, are set out below. We feel we could play a positive role in championing social mobility, both in our workforce and society in general. This aligns with the high prioritisation we’ve given to Goals 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities) in particular.  It also aligns with our cultural values and purpose.  As a result, we intend to launch a new programme in the coming months, focused on social mobility.

Click below to explore each set of goals:

High priority  Medium priority  Low priority


High priority

4. Quality education

We’re one of the largest recruiters of graduates in the UK, and train hundreds of students to become qualified accountants each year. We proactively promote equal access for minority groups, women and people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as encouraging  of social and environmental issues.

  • For example, we provide extensive opportunities for school leavers and students of all backgrounds to learn more about business and to apply to work with us, providing many ways to access the profession, including apprenticeships. (Target 4.3)
  • We publish indicators of social mobility in our Annual Report, and are pleased to have been recognised for our progressive employment practices by several organisations. (Target 4.5)
  • We also run multiple community programmes which focus on raising educational achievement and employability skills of students in the communities where our offices are based. (Target 4.4, 4.5)
  • And, we have an online, interactive training module, featuring some of our clients, to build a sustainability mindset across the firm. Over 90% of our people completed the course when it launched, and every new joiner is asked to complete it. (Target 4.7)

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5. Gender equality

Diversity is a mainstay of our business success, so there’s a natural fit with Goal 5 and we see this as an opportunity to contribute to society, too.

  • We have an extensive diversity and inclusion programme which seeks to drive equality for women in our business: this includes targets for gender at each grade, transparency around our gender pay gap (which we were one of the first companies to disclose), and multiple programmes (including sponsorship, mentoring and coaching) to help women throughout their careers, in particular in returning from maternity. Further, we’re signatories of the United Nation’s HeForShe campaign to engage men as agents of change for gender equality. (Target 5.1, 5.5)
  • Our flexible working policy, which includes shared parental leave, aims to helps our people to create a working environment that accommodates the priorities of our people outside work. (Target 5.4).
  • Our client work includes engagements to help empower women and girls including DFID’s Girls Education Challenge, which improves education opportunities for marginalised girls in some of the world’s poorest countries; and supporting the development of partnerships between the government and the private sector to improve education for girls, such as the Coca Cola 5by20 initiative. (Target 5.c)

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8. Decent work and economic growth

The size of the professional services sector in the UK, as well as our role in helping clients of all sizes and in all sectors to grow, makes this one of our most significant areas of positive contribution.

  • Our revenues grew 11% in 2016, while we recruited more than 1,600 graduates and school leavers, and more than 2,200 experienced hires. The net financial value to society of our combined economic, tax, social and environmental impacts grew by 8%. (Target 8.1)
  • Our growth strategy is founded on greater deployment of technology and helping our clients to do the same, to catalyse higher levels of economic productivity in our business and the economy in general. (Target 8.2)
  • We’ve also supported social enterprise for several years through our community engagement programmes. Our UK-wide Social Entrepreneurs’ Club offers our skills and resources to 250 social enterprises. In 2016, we also joined the Buy Social Corporate Challenge as a founding member, committing ourselves to increasing the amount that we buy from small businesses that address social and environmental issues. (Target 8.3)
  • We’ve set challenging public targets which aim to decouple our environmental impact from our economic growth, and publish our progress in both operational and monetary terms each year. (Target 8.4)
  • We run an extensive diversity and inclusion programme, with transparent reporting against public targets.  (Target 8.5, 8.6)
  • We have a programme addressing human rights and modern slavery risks in our operations (including those offshore), and in our supply chain, with 65% of our key suppliers reporting that they have a human rights policy in place in 2016. (Target 8.7, 8.8)

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10. Reduced inequalities

In a diverse and competitive world, we need to make sure that we can bring the best talent to our clients, regardless of characteristics such as race, gender or social background.  We pride ourselves on our approach to diversity and inclusion in our workforce, and use our work to help reduce global inequalities and imbalances, where possible.

  • To encourage transparency, we publish our performance against grade pool targets for diversity and ethnicity, alongside indicators of social mobility for our graduates, in our Annual Report. Our Open Mind training is mandatory for all partners and staff.  It’s designed to make our people think about the impact of unconscious bias on their relationships. And we have robust policies in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace. (Target 10.2, 10.3)
  • As tax advisors and experts, we are well placed to help governments understand how the national and global tax system might be reformed for greater equality. For example, we’ve invested in an annual Total Tax Contribution (TTC) survey every year since 2005, to provide robust data to inform the debate over how much tax large corporates pay in the UK.  We’ve developed an ongoing programme called ‘Paying for Tomorrow’ to collect multi-stakeholder input to define options for tax reform. (Target 10.4)
  • We monitor and report on executive remuneration in our business. (Target 10.4)
  • Through our leadership of the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) we play a key role in helping developing countries address climate change in line with efforts to reduce poverty, through providing research, technical assistance, knowledge management and negotiations support. (Target 10.6)

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Medium priority

3. Good health and wellbeing

To give our clients a great experience, we need to make sure our people are motivated to give their best and are in good health. So, health and wellbeing is critical for our people.  We also address it through some of our community programmes in the UK.

  • We have an extensive employee programme around mental health (‘Green Light to Talk’) which seeks to raise awareness and destigmatise the issues, helping those who need help to get it. (Target 3.4)
  • Our broader wellbeing programmes also include resilience training, cycle-to-work support and healthy eating ranges in our office canteens. (Target 3.4)
  • Through our PwC Foundation, we’ve partnered with strategic charities that are looking for cures for non-communicable diseases and mental illness, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. (Target 3.4)

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7. Affordable and clean energy

Although our energy footprint is limited, we use our skills and operations to accelerate the transition to clean energy, especially as this is a high priority goal for the UK.

  • To support the demand for - and delivery of – renewable energy we’ve moved to a 100% renewable electricity tariff for all offices we manage, backed by Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates which are traceable to source. (Target 7.2)
  • We’ve also reduced our energy consumption by 45% against our ten-year reduction target of 50% by 2017. (Target 7.3)
  • We’ve been confirmed as an Approved Verifier under the Climate Bond Standards and Certification Scheme, to support green bond issuers globally in scaling the green bonds market. (Target 7.a)
  • We’ve also been supporting renewable energy through the focus on climate compatible development in the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), which we lead. (Target 7.b)

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12. Responsible consumption and production

Although we’re not an intensive user of natural resources, we spend a significant amount with suppliers, and responsible consumption and production is a priority for the UK as a country.

  • We set five-year targets to decouple our operational environmental impacts (waste, natural resources, carbon emissions) from our economic growth by 2017. (Target 12.2)
  • We report extensively on our practices and progress through our Annual Report and Corporate Sustainability website, where all of our environmental performance data is externally assured by our financial auditors. (Target 12.6)
  • We’re progressively adopting the principles of the ‘circular economy’ – avoiding consumption wherever possible, increasing the proportion of materials we divert to reuse or recycling, and exploring circular solutions. (Target 12.5)
  • We’ve more than halved the waste we generate since 2007 and reduced our paper consumption by 60%. (Target 12.5)
  • We also work with clients on circular economy solutions, and sustainable operations and procurement. In particular, our work on Total Impact Measurement & Management (TIMM) is helping clients to assign a financial value to the impact they have on natural capital, as part of a more holistic and sustainable decision-making framework. (Target 12.6)

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16. Peace and justice strong institutions

As a professional services firm, Goal 16 is less of a priority, but our core services and operational practices both play a role in upholding effective, accountable institutions that society can trust.

  • The work we do to audit the financial accounts and non-financial reporting of listed companies helps to underpin confidence in capital markets. We’ve also been running the Building Public Trust awardssince 2002, for the FTSE 100, FTSE 250, and private, public and charity sectors, to encourage organisations to produce clear, transparent corporate reporting. (Target 16.6)
  • We operate in line with a stringent Code of Conduct: all of our partners, staff and contractors undertake regular mandatory training to help them understand our ethical requirements, including those relating to corruption and bribery. And we have a whistle-blowing helpline available to all partners and staff. (Target 16.5, 16.6)
  • Our Modern Slavery Statement sets out our approach to identify and stop any exploitation, trafficking and other human rights infringements, of children and adults, in both our operations and our supply chain. (Target 16.2)

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Low priority

1. No poverty

As this goal is low priority for our business, we primarily ensure our operations and community engagement are deployed to help tackle poverty in the UK.

  • We’ve been an accredited Living Wage employer for many years, so our employees and supplier staff working permanently at our UK offices earn – as a minimum - a wage that keeps them out of poverty. (Target 1.3)
  • Moreover, many of our community programmes help increase employability, which helps to lift people in the areas near our UK offices out of poverty. And, in 2011 we created Brigade – a joint-venture social enterprise which provides training and employment opportunities for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. (Target 1.2)
  • Our international development work for clients, such as our support to DFID’s Impact Programme, makes a contribution to eradicating poverty in developing countries. (Target 1.1, 1.4) 

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2. Zero hunger

Our business isn’t closely linked to the systemic issues that drive hunger, but we contribute where we can.

  • By eliminating our food waste, and pursuing opportunities to redistribute unused food from our on-site kitchens, we’re helping to reduce the pressure on food availability. (Target 2.1)  
  • We work with businesses, governments and civil society on ‘climate-smart agriculture’ to help them understand the impact of climate change on their agricultural interests and how they can respond. (Target 2.4) 

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6. Clean water and sanitation

We don't have a large water footprint in our direct operations. However, we monitor our consumption and have been investing to reduce it.

  • Since 2007, we’ve achieved a 36% water consumption reduction against our ten-year target of 50% by 2017. (Target 6.4)
  • As we report under Goal 15, we’ve also played a key role in the technical development and launch of the Natural Capital Protocol. (Target 6.6)
  • At a global level, PwC is also a signatory to the United National Global Compact's (UNGC) CEO Water Mandate and has led the development of the UN guidelines for water disclosure. (Target 6.6)

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9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure

As a people-based professional services firm, this goal is less relevant to our business operations, although some client work can make a positive contribution.

  • Through our increased investment in our Africa Business Group, we’ve been managing the use of a fleet of surveyor drones to help clients monitor infrastructure, and to understand land usage for town planning. (Target 9.1)
  • We’re supporting development in Africa by helping governments to use digital technology to improve their ability to collect tax for investment. (Target 9.2)
  • We’re also working with public sector clients to provide technology assistance and grant funding to help small agricultural businesses to expand in developing countries. (Target 9.3)

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11. Sustainable cities and communities

We make a contribution to sustainable cities through our client work to help improve the infrastructure of urban areas in developing nations, and locally by upgrading our offices in the UK.

  • A key challenge in moving to a more sustainable economy, for example, is dealing with old building stock, so we’re ensuring that sustainability criteria are central to the upgrade of our UK offices. In particular, our London offices at More London and Embankment Place, have both achieved the ‘Outstanding’ rating under BREEAM, the world’s foremost environmental rating system for buildings, setting new standards when they were opened.  We’ve continued to apply some of the pioneering technologies and lessons learned from these projects to the ongoing upgrade of our regional offices.(Target 11.6)

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13. Climate action

Action on climate is a priority for the UK, and our Total Impact Measurement & Management (TIMM) analysis shows that greenhouse gases are the biggest environmental impact for our business, so we’ve made it central to our sustainability strategy and invested to make a step change in our impact and resilience.

  • Our ISO22301-certified business continuity management system has been developed to minimise the risks of extreme weather to our offices, whilst locations for new offices and data centres are assessed for potential climate change impacts. (Target 13.1)
  • Building on a long-standing investment to monitor and track G20 countries’ progress towards a Low Carbon Economy, last year we ran a high profile ‘#Paris2015 and beyond’ awareness campaign to help businesses understand the implications of the Paris COP 21 climate agreement. (Target 13.2, 13.3)
  • Through our leadership of the Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), we support low-income countries with climate-compatible development, and in 2015 helped them to prepare for the international climate change negotiations at the COP21 summit in Paris. (Target 13.3, 13.b)
  • We’ve reduced our absolute carbon emissions (Scope 1, 2 & 3) by 25% since 2007, and we've offset all our ‘direct’ emissions, as reported in each financial year, since 2007, including projects that have achieved Gold Level status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standard, as they significantly assist communities local to the projects in adapting to the impacts of climate change, as well as displaying high biodiversity benefits. (Target 13.2, 13b)

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14. Life below water

Our business isn’t directly linked with oceans and marine resources, but Goal 14 is a priority for the UK so we’re taking action in our operations to make a positive contribution.

  • We’re working with a range of partners – including the Marine Conservation Society and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust – as part of our environmental volunteering programme, to reduce marine pollution. (Target 14.1)
  • We’re also reducing the amount of plastic in our catering, having moved to fully compostable Vegware products for food and drinks prepared in our offices as part of our ‘Going Circular’ programme, which in turn will reduce marine pollution. (Target 14.1)
  • Through our catering supplier we ensure that any seafood in our office restaurants is sourced from MSC-certified fisheries, and that we do not purchase anything from the MCS red list of 'fish to avoid', or from the IUCN red list of endangered fish. (Target 14.2, 14.4)

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15. Life on land

Our core business doesn’t have a significant impact on life on land directly, but it’s a UK priority so we use both our operations and technical skills to make a positive contribution.

  • Part of our environmental volunteering programme focuses on forest management and biodiversity conservation. (Target 15.1, 15.2)
  • We’re also a leading adviser on forestry, helping clients with issues relating to sustainable forestry, biodiversity and climate change. This includes structuring afforestation, reforestation and forest conservation projects, and carbon credit transactions. (Target 15.2)
  • We use our carbon offsets to conserve life on land: for example, 75% of the carbon credits we purchased to offset our 2016 emissions were from projects, in biodiversity hotspots, which have achieved gold status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard, and are REDD+certified. (Target 15.2, 15.5, 15.b)
  • We’ve collaborated with some of the world’s leading organisations in the technical development and launch of the Natural Capital Protocol, which aims to support better business decisions through a standardised framework to identify, measure, and value impacts and dependencies on natural capital. (Target 15.9, 15.a)

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Contact us

Jon Hampson
Corporate sustainability
Tel: +44( 0)20 7804 4722

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