Lack of data is preventing institutional investors from incorporating the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their investment process, a survey of investors worth $5.9trn (€5.3trn) across a dozen countries has found.

However, despite the problems arising from lack of data, the wide-ranging nature of the 17 SDGs and insufficient transparency on the part of investee companies, two-thirds of those responding to ShareAction’s survey said they were already taking action to contribute to three or more of the goals.

The survey, ‘Transforming our world through investment’, found the 52 asset managers and asset owners questioned were most likely to take action to combat climate change, achieve gender equality and ensure access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.

The last principle in particular, focusing on energy, was identified as one where the overwhelming majority of respondents would take action if they had yet to consider the impact of the SDGs on investment behaviour.

Catherine Howarth, chief executive at ShareAction, said the research showed the SDGs were “highly investment-relevant”.

“In a low-return environment, we are not surprised, but we are pleased to see institutional investors are engaged with these underlying drivers of business success,” she said. 

Respondents from a number of European countries – but also Australia, Canada, Brazil and Japan – also said there would be an increasing focus on all 17 of the goals over the next 15 years.

The SDGs, adopted in September last year, set out to have a material impact on areas including climate change, inequality, levels of poverty and educational attainment by 2030.

One goal, to build resilient infrastructure and promote sustainable industrialisation, was identified as one of the goals most likely to see action by investors failing to integrate the SDGs.

However, despite the survey’s finding that at least 61% of those surveyed intend to integrate the SDGs over the next 15 years, ShareAction warned that the response only offers an indication of future plans, as more than half of respondents remain undecided on how to proceed.

Shadé Brown, senior sustainability analyst at Calvert Investments, said the SDGs were “inspiring, ambitious and challenging”.

She added: “A better understanding of the investor-SDG landscape, barriers and ways to overcome them, as this report lays out, is important for investor efforts and the overall sustained and coordinated action necessary to achieve the goals of the SDGs.”