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What Are the Sustainability Goals of Swiss Companies?

Companies have a decisive role in implementing the global sustainability objectives (Sustainable Development Goals SDG) established in 2015. They have the resources and influence to make a significant contribution to sustainable development. The extent to which companies are aware of their social (corporate) responsibility relies on their ability to recognize environmental protection as a strategic success factor and establish it as part of their management system. A good indicator of this awareness is the presence of specific objectives presented in annual reports or special sustainability reports.

According to a study conducted by the ZHAW School of Management and Law and the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland, the proportion of companies that actually communicate environmental goals varies considerably: While this is 50% or more in the paper and cardboard industry, the banking sector, and the cosmetics industry, the proportion of such companies in the computer industry and the IT sector is a mere 5%.

Most companies that have established sustainability goals currently focus on reducing energy consumption, emissions, wastewater and other waste, and materials. Topics such as biodiversity, products, transportation, and supplier certificates are largely neglected. It is also noticeable that, for the most part, these goals are attributable to areas where it is easier to define objectives that are specific, measurable, and have a timeline. Also, the majority of environmental goals are limited to the company itself - the preceding and subsequent stages of the value chain are rarely considered.

Effective goals have to be SMART. In other words, they have to be "specific and significant," "measurable," "attainable," "realistic," and "time-bound." A well-defined, or SMART, set of environmental goals is a clear sign that the company in question has recognized the significance of sustainability as a strategic success factor and has integrated it into its management system. Almost all companies (91%) fulfill the criterion of a timeline, in particular, since almost all of them set time limits and deadlines for their goals. Similarly, the criterion of "measurability" is applied by 61% of companies. By contrast, it is striking that, on average, the goals are not very realistic, which is partly due to a tendency to define goals that are not ambitious enough. Goals to be achieved within a few years are often met, or even exceeded, in the reporting year.

Companies in Switzerland that set effective goals include Clariant AG, Coca-Cola HBC Switzerland AG, Geneva International Airport, Swisscom AG, Givaudan SA, Berner Kantonalbank AG, and Roche Holding AG. They satisfy SMART criteria to more than 90%.

For details about the study, "Environmental Goals of Companies in Switzerland," and its results, visit the website of Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).