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What Are Sustainable Development Goals and How Can Businesses Use Them?

There’s a general consensus among those who are familiar with the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development that they can only be achieved through the harmonious collaboration of all areas of society, including, but not limited to, Governments, NGOs, and the private sector.

The UN’s framework for these goals puts a lot of pressure on businesses to drive the changes, due to their central role, but what effect can businesses have?

That’s what we are here to discuss…

Firstly, what are the 17 goals?

What ways can your business make the most of SDGs?

Ideally, you will pick the SDG that bears the most relevance to your business, one that aligns with your core values and will help in driving forward your objectives and brand value.

Here are a few examples

SDG1 – Ending extreme poverty

Does your company create a product that could be used in the third world or in regions of extreme poverty? If you make children’s footwear, could you assign a percentage of products towards an overseas aid package? If your business is in the educational industry, could your products or services be packaged in a way that those in regions of extreme poverty can benefit and get an education that they otherwise couldn’t afford?

SDG5 and SDG10 – Fighting inequality and injustice

Addressing the gender pay gap within your business is perhaps the first port of call when it comes to gender inequality. More so than simply changing the pay structure, you should look at why it was the case that different genders were earning more or less. If you can perform the research, you can produce case studies and lessons to help inform other businesses and stakeholders so that they could also make positive changes.

In regards to national inequality or regional inequality, your business may not be able to have a huge effect, but at a micro level, engaging communities, making your product or service accessible to all, and introducing philanthropic measures could all bode well for your business and brand. Putting pressure on government or public organisations to address their structures and policies is something that a collaboration between various businesses could well achieve.

SDG14 and SDG15 – Fixing climate change

It is very current and popular to discuss ocean damage, especially regarding plastics. If your business is involved in international shipping or manufactures plastic products, are you doing everything possible to avoid generating ocean waste? What greater measures could you introduce? This is all worth thinking about, especially as it’s so topical and will result in a great brand value if you actively address it and implement solutions.

When it comes to agriculture or making products that involve mining, deforestation, or nature, there are many things that can be done to ensure that you’re protecting these natural habitats that your resources come from. It could be through investing in the local communities, buying more products and services locally, or assessing and reporting on efficiency.

The Sustainable Development Goals work in different ways

As mentioned before, we feel that focusing on the core SDG that aligns with your business is the best method, but if you have looked through the 17 goals and feel that there’s no one SDG that you can align to, you can do things differently.

The 17 SDGs also work as a framework for sustainability, and when reviewed regularly, can simply act as a decision-making guide for your business. For each major decision you have to make for your business, you can scan the list and make sure that the decision will encourage positive outcomes and not negative repercussions.

Research shows…

PWC’s research results below are very interesting, but perhaps show that we really do have a long way to go:

  • Awareness: SDG awareness amongst the business community is high (92%) compared to the general population (33% Citizens aware of SDGs)
  • Responsibility: Government is seen as having the prime responsibility to achieve the SDGs by business and citizens alike (49% of business responders and 44% of citizens ranked government first (before business and society))
  • Action: Business has already started to take action – despite only 10% of business participants ranking business with prime responsibility:
    • 71% of business say they are already planning how they will respond to the SDGs.
    • 34% of business say they have agreed their plans and/or are implementing them
    • 37% of business say they are planning their approach
  • Gaps: There are distinct gaps in how to go about it, especially in areas where tough decisions are required:
    • Only 13% of businesses have identified the tools they need
    • Only 29% are setting goals
  • Optimism: We should be optimistic that engagement will increase by 2020: About one-fifth of businesses are doing nothing right now… 22% said they were either waiting for the SDGs to be ratified or for government regulation before doing anything or thought it was the government’s responsibility, not theirs.
    But, this drops to 4% when thinking about what they’ll be doing in five years.
  • Significance: Citizens may have only a limited awareness of the SDGs but quickly recognised their significance:
    • 90% of citizens believe it is important that business signs up to the SDGs
    • 78% of citizens said they were more likely to buy the goods and services of companies that had signed up to the SDGs (increasing 90% for citizens from Latin America)

‘He who has a why can bear any how’

What we can say to you about the SDGs is that breaking your back trying to address all 17 goals is not going to be a good use of your time. You’ll also have to accept that while you have accepted why you’re going to make changes and are figuring out what those changes will be, there are factors at play that you cannot influence.

A successful UN Sustainable Development project is highly dependent on the collaboration of the private sector and the public sector. One problem is that there will be hesitation on both sides, for various reasons.

For some businesses to make forward moves, they will be dependent on national regulations and policies to support them, and for some governments to make those policy changes, they’ll need to see strong momentum or cause from the private sector. We hope that instead of a catch 22 situation, we’ll see powerful collaboration and mutually beneficial decisions being made.

What you can do right now

Get in touch with an environmental consultant who can best analyse your business, choose which SDGs will drive you forward, and can help you to embed sustainability into your organisation, your company culture, your reporting, and your strategy. Your business can play its part, and it should.