17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – what, why and where to start?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are aimed at mobilising efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change by governments, businesses and citizens. Developed in 2015 as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals, the 17 SDGs focus on a broad range of sustainable development issues and break down into 169 targets – all of which are to be achieved by 2030.

Despite the many benefits they offer, the SDGs have had slow uptake, with over half of businesses failing to act thus far. This could be due to the fact that the sheer volume of SDGs is proving overwhelming, or due to the lack of a standardised approach and methodology on how to tackle them. Similarly, there are no legislative drivers in place that states companies must set targets against SDG’s and therefore, companies must voluntarily decide to align their strategy against them.

Nevertheless, some businesses are now starting to realise the opportunities presented by the SDGs by looking at how they can work to achieve the SDGs and which goals they want to pursue. Corporate giants such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, SABMiller and Unilever have mapped their sustainability targets against the SDGs they have deemed the most relevant to their business. This isn’t entirely altruistic either – Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, called the SDGs “the greatest economic opportunity of a lifetime”. It is now important that other companies follow suit. SDGs can help companies in many ways: they give a reason to align business activities with society’s needs; an opportunity to focus on a sustainable strategy and an opportunity to reach out to new collaborations and partnerships.

The SDGs are set for 2030, therefore, companies must start acting on them now. As working towards all 17 SDGs may be overly burdensome, Carbon Smart recommends that targets are set against a select few. Companies can choose to either pick SDGs that are already aligned to their business targets, or SDGs they want to challenge as an area for their business to move into or work towards. In order for them to be successful, a company should lay out from the start which goals it aims to achieve, and integrate these goals into the business strategy. This can be done by aligning and setting targets towards the goals. Progress against them should be tracked by setting KPI’s that are aligned with what goals the company is setting out to achieve. Start acting today.

If you wish to learn how to turn targets into actions, click here to read about SDG 17 and volunteering to make sustainability work.