In 2015, all 193 United Nations member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. From the start, it was clear that attaining these bold goals would require the involvement of the private sector. But what role do companies have in promoting sustainable development? This dissertation consists of five studies that research the role of companies in sustainable development. The first study conceptualizes the SDGs as a goal-based institution for international business and surveys how companies’ engagement with particular SDGs is influenced by traits of individual SDGs and by traits of the companies themselves. The second and third studies investigate how companies impact the SDGs and their underlying targets. These studies employ diverse methods to illuminate the widely diverging - positive and negative - impacts that different types of companies exert on sustainable development. The fourth study then asks how companies might improve their contributions to sustainable development. Finally, the fifth study reflects on how the SDGs can help transform towards more sustainable societies throughout, and beyond, the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, this dissertation adopts an interdisciplinary approach to better understand companies’ current role in sustainable development and to define how the private sector’s impacts on the SDGs might be improved in the future. In this age of sustainable development, in which the challenges are grave yet the opportunities for tackling them are within reach, there is a need to translate the significant traction that the SDGs have gained in the private sector into positive impact that accelerates progress for achieving the goals. This dissertation endeavors to be a step towards this objective.

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R. van Tulder (Rob)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
ERIM Ph.D. Series Research in Management
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

van Zanten, J.A. (2021, September 2). Business in the Age of Sustainable Development (No. 4). ERIM Ph.D. Series Research in Management. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Retrieved from