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 address economic, environmental and social impacts, and are designed to form a blueprint for good growth, nationally and internationally, by 2030. They’re underpinned by 169 targets to help define progress.

The SDGs apply to both developed and developing countries, and governments expect business to help achieve the goals, which are expected to frame the agendas and policies of member states until 2030. 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. Our market-leading Sustainability & Climate Change team (S&CC) has been collaborating with the United Nations to develop tools to help business understand the SDGs, as well as how to prioritise areas for action.  Secondly, 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 identified and 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 impacts and opportunities for our sector.  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. This draws on over 200 data sources, scoring each country against each SDG target, to anticipate potential areas of focus for future government policy - recognising that our business depends on a thriving UK economy.

We cross referenced the output from this with other considerations relating to our client delivery, our operations and our communities - to determine the priority goals for our business. We’ll still refer to the full list as a ‘sense check’ to make sure that we’re helping to contribute to all of the goals in some way. And 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 collaboration. 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 Global Compact and GRI on prioritising and reporting the SDGs. 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. As a people-based services business, social mobility is a key focus for us.  This aligns with the high prioritisation we’ve given to Goals 4 (Quality education), 5 (Gender equality), 8 (Decent work & economic growth) and 10 (Reduced inequalities) in particular.

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 awareness of social and environmental issues.

  • For example, we provide thousands of 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. In 2017 we supported more than 8,300 young people to develop workplace skills. (Target 4.4, 4.5)
  • And, we developed 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 it won awards from both the sustainability network 2degrees and e-learning age in 2014. (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.

  • We have an extensive diversity and inclusion programme which seeks to drive equality for women in our business: this includes public targets for gender at each grade, transparency around our gender pay gap - which we were one of the first businesses 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 help our people to create a working environment that accommodates their priorities outside of work. (Target 5.4).
  • We publish the Women in Work Index each year, and moderated the ‘Where are the Executive Women?’ event jointly organised by PwC and the European Women’s Lobby. (Target 5.5).
  • We’ve also established a Women in Technology programme initiative to attract more female talent into technology careers. As part of this we’ve held events at the Science Museum in London for school girls and business leaders, and have published a report on the gender gap in the technology sector. (Target 5b)
  • 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 5% in 2017 to £3.6 billion, while we recruited more than 1,500 graduates and school leavers, and more than 1,300 experienced hires. The net financial value to society of our combined economic, tax, social and environmental impacts grew by 2% to £4.62 billion - which is 28% more than our revenues. (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.  And we’ve introduced a Technology Degree Apprenticeship to our Flying Start degree series for students. (Target 8.2) 
  • We’ve developed a ‘responsible technology’ approach to help showcase the positive role of technology, while mitigating potentially adverse social, ethical, and environmental concerns across our supply chain, operations, people agenda and client work.  We shared this with the UN and many other stakeholders at the AI for Good conference about how technology can be used to help deliver the SDGs. (Target 8.2, 8.4) 
  • 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 set challenging, long term, public targets to decouple our environmental impact from our economic growth, and have published our achievements in both operational and financial terms each year. (Target 8.4)
  • We run an extensive diversity and inclusion programme, with transparent reporting against public targets. And we publish the Young Workers Index, focusing in 2017 on the implications of an increasingly automated workplace for young workers. (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 66% of our key suppliers reporting that they have a human rights policy in place in 2017. (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. We were one of the first businesses to voluntarily publish details of our gender pay gap (2014) and ethnicity gap (2017). 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)
  • We’ve established a new social mobility team with a five-year strategy and ambitious targets. We’re working with over 40 partner schools nationally, focused largely on local authority social mobility coldspots identified by the Social Mobility Commission, and DfE Opportunity Areas. We ranked seventh out of the top 50 employers in the UK’s first Social Mobility Employer Index, and were also the headline sponsors of the UK’s first Social Mobility Awards. (Target 10.2, 10.3)
  • As tax advisors and experts, we’re 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.  And we’ve run a programme for several years called ‘Paying for Tomorrow’ to collect multi-stakeholder input to develop options for tax reform. (Target 10.4)
  • We monitor and report on executive remuneration in our business, and have given evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy about corporate governance and executive pay. (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. It’s recently focused on topics including eating disorders, postnatal depression, and children’s mental health. (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 charities that are addressing mental health issues, and funding research into improving the health of women and babies. (Target 3.1, 3.2, 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 achieved our target to reduce our energy consumption by 50% between 2007 and 2017 through investing in innovative design and pioneering new technologies in our buildings. (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 each year, and want to minimise the indirect impacts of this.

  • We set long term targets to to decouple our operational environmental impacts from our economic growth. Between 2007 and 2017 we reduced our consumption of energy by 50%, paper by 64%, water by 40%, and waste by 46%, while increasing our recycling rate to 80%. (Target 12.2)
  • 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 with our suppliers. (Target 12.5)
  • We report extensively on our sustainability practices and progress - including our supply chain performance - through our Annual Report and Corporate Sustainability website, where all of our sustainability performance data is externally assured by our financial auditors. (Target 12.6)
  • 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)
  • We’ve developed and run a number of internal campaigns and events focused on sustainable fish consumption, ocean plastics and cycling to work, to raise our people’s awareness of the sustainability impacts, together with how they link to the relevant SDGs. (Target 12.8)

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16. Peace, justice and strong institutions

As a professional services firm, our core advisory, assurance and tax services and operational practices play an important 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. (Target 16.5, 16.6)
  • We’ve also been running the Building Public Trust awards since 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)
  • And through our support of the ID2020 initiative, we’re exploring with others how blockchain might be used to give people a unique digital identity that can help eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery. (Target 16.9)

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Low priority

1. No poverty

We primarily tackle poverty in the UK through ensure our operations, recruitment and community engagement programmes.

  • 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 helps to keep 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)
  • As set out for Goal 10, we’ve established a new social mobility team to give young people the opportunity to develop skills for a successful future and to access careers in business. (Target 1.4)
  • 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.

  • Between 2007 and 2017, we achieved a 40% reduction in water consumption in our offices. (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.

  • We’re a founding member of the Coalition for Urban Transitions, an international and collaborative initiative that provides evidence-based sustainable urban policy advice to emerging market governments tackling the challenges of rapid urbanisation. We also lead DFID's Infrastructure and Cities for Economic Development (ICED) facility. ICED supports the design of a next generation of UK development assistance programmes that support sustainable and accelerated investment into the built environment of developing countries in Africa and South Asia. (Target 11.3)

  • A key challenge in moving to a more sustainable economy, 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 progress on global climate commitments, we’ve continued publish our Low Carbon Economy Index, tracking the progress G20 countries have made to decarbonise their economies since 2000. (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 reduced our absolute carbon emissions (Scope 1, 2 & 3) by 29% between 2007, and 2017, beating our long-term public target of 25%.  Our combined Scope 1 & 2 carbon emissions fell by 77%. We've also offset all our ‘direct’ emissions, as reported in each financial year, since 2007.  All of the projects we support are REDD+ certified,and have also achieved Gold Level status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) Standard. (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 making a contribution through our operations and our community volunteering.

  • 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 monitor and reduce water pollution. This has included events focused on ocean plastics and highlighting the polluting impact of single use plastic on marine life. (Target 14.1)
  • We’re also reducing the amount of plastic in our catering, having moved to fully compostable 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 from the MCS red list of 'fish to avoid', or from the IUCN red list of endangered fish. We also developed a sustainable fish campaign for our people, encouraging them to try less well known varieties in our restaurants, and distributing the MSC Good Fish Guide. (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 woodland management and conservation work to support biodiversity and ecosystem services linking local volunteering activity to global environmental issues. (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.  100% of the carbon credits we purchased to offset our 2017 emissions were from projects which have achieved gold level status under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standard, and are REDD+certified, meaning that they focus on the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks through working with local communities. (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, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44( 0)20 7804 4722

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