In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were born.
Adopted by 193 states at the United Nations, the 17 goals and 169 targets were put in place to create a stable, fairer world for all, putting people and the planet at the forefront of government and business agendas. The UN aim is to realise all 17 goals by 2030, to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable society for all.
We have under a decade to meet these ambitious yet very realistic targets. The time for businesses to take action is now.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
- No Poverty: End poverty in every form, everywhere.
- Zero Hunger: End hunger, improve food security and achieve sustainable agriculture.
- Good Health and Well-being: Ensure healthy lives at all ages.
- Quality Education: Inclusive and equitable education for all.
- Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
- Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure available and sustainable management of water for all.
- Affordable and Clean Energy: Access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all.
- Decent Work and Economic Growth: Sustainable economic growth with full and productive employment and decent work.
- Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure: Foster innovation, build resilient infrastructure and promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation.
- Reducing Inequality: Reduce inequality within and among countries.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and communities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
- Responsible Consumption and Production: Consume sustainably and ensure sustainable production patterns.
- Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its devastating impacts.
- Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
- Life On Land: Protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of ecosystems, manage forests, combat desertification, halve and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
- Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.
The role of business in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals
Governments aren’t taking enough action and consumers alone often don’t have the tools needed to drive big change in the world, the role of business is to empower their audience to take action and give them an option to live a more sustainable life, whilst improving their impact on the planet and people.
Social entrepreneurs are taking matters into their own hands by combining purpose with profit, driving social change with businesses embedding causes at their heart. Businesses without a clear purpose are struggling to keep up with their purpose driven counterparts.
But we’re not here to berate those organisations that haven’t yet seen the benefit of sustainable growth. Every organisation has a role to play in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and by working together and in partnership with others, organisations can achieve a much bigger impact.
Prioritise and align with goals that fit with your brand
Businesses often have limited time and people resources to commit to delivering on all 17 SDGs. In order to deliver the most impact it’s usually best to prioritise one or two of the goals to really focus on driving change. Before you jump in and start implementing your goals, ask yourself:
- Who is my audience?
- What do we care about as an organisation?
- Why do we exist as a business?
By asking yourself these questions, you can embed your goals authentically. There’s nothing worse than brands greenwashing in order to appear more sustainable, your audience will see straight through it. By choosing specific goals that fit with your organisation and audience, not only are you helping to create a more sustainable world for everyone, You’re also likely to see the business benefit of aligning yourself with a purpose higher than profit making.
Embedding SDGs in your organisation
Now you’ve chosen which goals to focus on for the coming year, you need to create a strategy and assess where you are currently, then implement the plan and measure the results to ensure your organisation is meeting the objectives you’ve set yourself to meet the SDGs.
As with any new project, it’s important to identify what it is you want to achieve. Besides the obvious need to create a better environment for everyone, it’s important to get specific about the reasons for choosing an SDG and what you want to achieve.
Create objectives: You may set an objective to remove all food waste from your restaurant business, so you’ll need to create specific SMART objectives to reach this ambitious goal.
Create clear guidelines for you and your team: Having a set process for your SDGs, you need to create a roadmap to show how you’re going to achieve your goals. This will include what resources you need, what actions specific individuals need to take, new innovations that need to be made and who is responsible for ensuring change is being made.
Create a communications strategy: Now you’re doing great things to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, you’re able to communicate the good things you’re doing for the planet and people. Communicating your goals and what you’re doing around sustainability is a great way to increase brand awareness, connection and loyalty. By telling others about the work you’re doing, you’re also able to inspire them to take action.
Want to communicate your sustainable credentials?
In the example above we set an objective of removing food waste from a restaurant, in order to do this you could partner with a local homeless charity to provide meals to the homeless. The implementation stage is all about working with your team and others to drive towards meeting the objectives set in the planning stage.
Make it easy for people to take the desired action: Most people want to be more sustainable but habits get in the way. As with any change, new habits need to be formed. Make it easy for people to take the action required to meet your SDG. If your aim is to reduce water consumption, add reminders next to taps to stop people running water longer than necessary.
Continuous improvement: Embedding SDGs is a learning curve for everyone involved, embrace that and continuously improve on the change you’re making. Learn from what is and isn’t working by gathering feedback from your team and partners.
Any project manager will tell you there is no point setting goals if you’re not going to measure them. Perhaps the most important element of your SDG planning is measuring. By putting in place control and measurement processes you’ll be able to see if your actions are having the desired impact.
If you’re falling short of progress towards meeting your objectives, you might need to revisit your plan and adjust. The most important thing is not to set and forget. Lots of organisations start off with the best intentions and lose interest, but by measuring performance you’ll be able to keep yourself and your team accountable to the SDGs.
Grow your organisation sustainably
In an ideal world every business would look at every SDG and improve upon their existing performance in each of the 17 areas but this isn’t always possible. Focusing on one specific goal at a time is more effective in driving organisational change than a spray and hope approach.
Business is essential in building a world that works for everyone. From saving the planet to removing poverty, business can be the driver of change and your organisation needs to be a part of it.