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Aligning ESG and SDGs at the Urban Level

RESEARCH Report by Kris Hartley
Sustainable urban development

This report outlines how cities and the private sector can collaborate on and magnify sustainability efforts that enable broad systemic change.

Sustainability efforts require not only public policy interventions and resources but also the initiative and innovation of the private sector. These are systematized through the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for governments, including at the city level, and through environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles for companies. Bringing these two approaches into alignment is a crucial step for fostering multi-sectoral sustainability effort, but this alignment is largely unrealized.

Among the local-government sustainability documents examined for this report, mentions of corporate activity are minimal and often superficial, primarily addressing the participation of companies in multi-stakeholder discussions about policy issues. In turn, ESG reports center on the decisions and actions of corporations, with public governance referenced largely in the context of regulatory limitations and policy objectives that affect business operations.

Local governments and companies are undertaking sustainability efforts in their own ways. Merging the two through shared focus and strategy can magnify sustainability efforts in ways that enable the broad systemic change needed to avert climate crisis and societal disruption. This report outlines how a more collaborative approach can proceed, first by providing an overview of policy and corporate sustainability efforts and second by detailing examples of both. The report concludes with a discussion about how sustainability narratives can be harmonized between the two sectors.

About the Author
Kris Hartley
Nonresident Fellow, Global Cities
Headshot for Kris Hartley
Kris Hartley is assistant professor of public policy at City University of Hong Kong and a nonresident fellow at the Council since 2015. He researches power and knowledge in the policymaking process, focusing on technology and the environment. Hartley has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Thailand and has published three books, including one with Cambridge University Press.
Headshot for Kris Hartley