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SDGwashing: a critical view of the pursuit of SDGs and its relationship with environmental performance

Vera Ferrón Vílchez, Pablo Ortega Carrasco and Francisco Antonio Serrano Bernardo

Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 2022, vol. 65, issue 6, 1001-1023

Abstract: The sustainable development goals (SDGs) provide a strategic vision and future-oriented plan that companies, regulators and society in general are challenged to face. However, companies’ contribution to the achievement of SDGs is questioned by some critical voices. In the business context, SDGwashing refers to positively pursuing a contribution to some SDGs while ignoring the negative impact of others. The objective of this research is to study whether there is an association between pursuing SDGs of a different nature and environmental performance. Are companies pursuing the more environmental-focused SDGs, the ones with better environmental performance, compared to companies pursuing more social-focused SDGs? Thus, this work examines whether multinationals that pursue more environmental-focused SDGs have a similar level of environmental performance to those that make efforts to pursue more social-oriented SDGs. This study analyzes whether SDGwashing exists in relation to environmental performance by studying its relationship with two relevant variables of literature on environmental management: outcome-based environmental performance (through GHG emissions) and process-based environmental performance (through CDP scoring). Using a sample of multinational firms listed on the FTSE 100 index, we applied an ANOVA test and logistic regression to show whether the pursuit of both more environmental-focused SDG and more social-focused SDGs was associated with environmental performance. The results of this study offer a significant contribution to academic literature on SDGs. Our findings show that the organizational profile of multinational companies that pursue more environmental-focused SDGs differs from the organizational profile of multinationals that are pursuing more social-oriented SDGs, in terms of environmental performance. This offers empirical evidence by showing that SDGwashing exists in international business.

Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2022.2033960

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