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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the global blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by the year 2030. Set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, the SDGs cover a wide range of issues including climate change, health, education and poverty. Additionally, the SDGs also connect your business values with local and global priorities which need immediate attention.
In this blog, the ENSO team aim to delve into the essence of the SDGs, exploring each goal’s significance and the interconnectedness that underpins their implementation.
We will also highlight practical steps that your business can take to support the SDGs and create a more sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
The SDGs, sometimes known as the Global Goals, were adopted in 2015 by all United Nations (UN) Member States. The SDGs are composed of 17 goals that serve as a blueprint for global development. Each individual goal is made up of targets to be met in the process of achieving the overall goal.
All countries, both developing and developed, are called to collective action to create a more peaceful, sustainable, equitable, and prosperous world for all. The SDGs focus on key issues facing the world including poverty, climate change, health, education, and inequality.
The 17 SDGs can be seen in the figure below. Later in this guide, we will go into more detail regarding each individual goal.
The Business Case for Engaging with the SDGs
Businesses should have a deep interest in ensuring that the SDGs are achieved. This is because businesses cannot thrive in a world of poverty, inequality, unrest, and environmental stressors. These are all common objectives within the SDGs, making businesses logical partners in advocating for and achieving the Global Goals by 2030.
The private sector can help with providing solutions to the challenges we face globally, while also creating new business opportunities for themselves.
According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, by 2030 the SDGs are anticipated to generate at least US$12 trillion in market opportunities.
Better Business, Better World Report, 2017
Your orginisation can take advantage of this by identifying and mitigating risks through your business model. This can be achieved by considering the positive impacts your product, service, or process already have or by creating a new product to address a specific risk. Keeping the SDGs in mind can help you to identify these opportunities.
On top of this, the SDGs are becoming more and more important for investors. This is because the SDGs directly relate to the most pressing environmental, social and economic issues we are currently facing. Therefore, the SDGs serve as a blueprint for what should be considered in Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies.
Investors want stable returns and want to be able to offer sustainable financial products to differentiate themselves in the market. Investing in companies aligned with the SDGs allows them to achieve this.
Internally, the SDGs are a very useful planning tool, as they can help you to prioritise sustainability actions. Through your understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals, you can define the priority targets that most align with your business.
For example, if you are working to reduce food waste through repurposed products, you might prioritise Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production and Goal 2: Zero Hunger. With your priority goals in mind, you can implement initiatives that help to advance their progress, while benefiting your business.
Why are the SDGs Good for Your Business?
- The SDGs are a globally recognised framework that can connect you to global audiences.
- Adopting the SDGs can help you align with larger retailers and potential partners that are addressing sustainability.
- Communicating your sustainability strategy and accomplishments is very important. Adopting the SDGs can help you report in an organised and transparent way.
- Implementing the SDGs can help to future-proof your business, making you more able to weather any economic or environmental shocks.
- Using the SDGs to solidify your commitment to sustainability will help you attract talent in the hiring process, as many qualified individuals are starting to look for sustainable companies to work for.
Breakdown of the Goals
In this section, we will briefly discuss each of the SDGs, what they entail, and what opportunities they may present for your business. Your actions as an organisation have the potential to make positive impacts on each and every one of the following goals. However, it is important to prioritise which you will address in order to achieve the greatest positive impact for your organisation and the achievement of the goals.
Goal 1: No Poverty
The first SDG aims to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. While significant progress had been made in achieving this goal, the combined effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, inflation, and the impacts of the war in the Ukraine have derailed progress.
What actions can your business take? It is very important for businesses to consider this goal when determining wages for their employees and when choosing suppliers to work with. Ensure you are paying your employees a living wage and that the suppliers you work with also pay fair wages. This will help make progress on Goal 1 and make you a competitive employer in order to attract the best possible talent.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
This goal encompasses an ambition to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Similar to Goal 1, multiple factors, including conflict, Covid 19, climate change, and growing inequalities, undermine progress towards achieving Goal 2.
What actions can your business take? As a business, there are many ways you can advance Goal 2 through your practices, products, and service. Reducing food waste, providing nutritional options, and engaging in sustainable agricultural practices are some of the ways you can engage with Goal 2. These practices can help to reduce business costs and attract new customers that are looking for healthy, sustainable options.
Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing
Goal 3 seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. As expected, Covid 19 had many adverse impacts on the achievement of this goal, including disruption of health services, high numbers of infection, and increases in prevalence of anxiety and depression.
What actions can your business take? As a business, you can support the advancement of Goal 3 through the implementation of employee wellness initiatives, including supplemental health insurance, mental health considerations, and physical well-being activities. This will aid employee wellbeing and will help you attract and retain talent.
Goal 4: Quality Education
The fourth goal aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. During the pandemic, inequalities in learning opportunities grew and enrollment decreased. However, many countries are improving school infrastructure and more students are able to access remote learning opportunities.
What actions can your business take? Learning is a lifelong endeavour, which means you can support Goal 4 in many different ways. Some possibilities include a structured professional development programme, offering learning opportunities to local schools through your business, and engaging in skills sharing exercises.
Goal 5: Gender Equality
As a business, you have a great opportunity to advance Goal 5 and to help with the objective to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. While progress has been made towards gender equality, there are still significant gaps in access and opportunities between women and men. On top of this, we need to consider individuals that identify outside of the gender binary and ensure that they also have equal opportunities and are represented in decision making spaces.
What actions can your business take? Within your organisation, you can implement a diversity and inclusion policy in order to foster an inclusive, safe, and empowering environment. With this policy in place, actively implement initiatives to promote gender equality, including D&I training and town hall meetings to brainstorm actions.
Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Water is an incredibly important resource for a multitude of reasons, including drinking, sanitation, and hygiene. Therefore, Goal 6 aims to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. With climate change, water stress may increase, reinforcing the importance of achieving this goal.
What actions can your business take? As a business, implementing water saving measures, such as fixing leaks and installing low flow devices, can help with sustainable management of the resources and can lower operational costs. Also, you should make sure that you are following all regulations regarding waste water in order to keep water safe for all.
Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Access to electricity is an important part of development, but it must be provided in a way that is affordable and sustainable. Therefore, Goal 5 aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. This goal is increasingly important as energy costs rise, the need to decarbonise becomes more urgent, and many people still remain without access to electricity.
What actions can your business take? Your decisions regarding energy can help to achieve this goal, and save you money, by reducing demand on the grid through conservation measures and pushing providers towards renewable sources through your purchasing decisions.
Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Goal 8 can be considered at the heart of every business as it aims to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. The global economy is still recovering from the Covid 19 pandemic and is currently facing disruptions from climate change and international conflicts.
What actions can your business take? We have the opportunity to create more resilient businesses and economic opportunities. Innovation, diversification and a focus on resource efficiency and labour rights can help progress us towards Goal 8.
Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
The main objective of Goal 9 is to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. By achieving this goal, we will see more resilient systems in our society that are better able to react to different shocks, whether they are economic, social, or environmental.
What actions can your business take? Within your business, you can support this goal through your own innovations to increase resilience. Once you identify processes and changes that specifically work for you, engage in knowledge sharing to help spur further innovation. You will be more resilient to future challenges and will advance Goal 9.
Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
Inequality is present everywhere which is why Goal 10 aims to reduce inequality within and among countries. The Covid 19 pandemic caused the first rise in between-country income inequality in a generation. This fact reinforces the importance of Goal 10.
What actions can your business take? One way for your company to help achieve Goal 10 is to pay fair, living wages to your employees, hopefully helping to alleviate some economic pressure. On a global scale, if you are working with international suppliers, ensure that you are paying fair prices for the goods and that your suppliers are operating in an ethical manner that does not exacerbate existing inequalities.
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Our communities are an important part of our businesses. Goal 11 aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This goal is becoming increasingly important as climate change related disasters become more frequent.
What actions can your business take? As a business, you have the opportunity to engage with your local communities in a variety of different ways to support this goal. Find a community organisation that you and your team members are passionate about and connect with them to make your community more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
Goal 12 aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns to help prevent climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Business operations and practices are uniquely situated to make a strong impact in this area.
What actions can your business take? By engaging with the circular economy and increasing efficiency of production processes, you can become more sustainable and lower costs. Goal 12 is a perfect guide for reducing waste and creating a more sustainable, circular economy.
Goal 13: Climate Action
We are already seeing the impacts of climate change on our communities and our businesses. Goal 13 urges us to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
What actions can your business take? As a business, it is in your best interest to act now to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. This is because climate change has the potential to disrupt all facets of our economy, including supply chains, manufacturing, and access to markets. We all need to work together to achieve this goal through decarbonisation and innovation.
Goal 14: Life Below Water
Earth’s oceans are an incredibly valuable and important resource that we must work to conserve and use sustainably. Goal 14 aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea and marine resources for sustainable development.
What actions can your business take? Depending on your business, what products and services you offer, and where you are located there are different ways to engage with Goal 14. Use sustainable fishing practices, engage with community organisations that protect marine ecosystems, or learn more about how your actions impact the oceans. By taking actions, we will be able to continue to rely on our oceans for transport, carbon sequestration, and natural resources.
Goal 15: Life on Land
Goal 15 aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Simply put, our businesses cannot operate without our terrestrial ecosystems. We rely directly on them for our raw materials, our business processes, and more.
What actions can your business take? Brainstorm possible biodiversity initiatives that you can engage with, whether they are larger initiatives or individual actions. These actions will help achieve Goal 15 and increase the resilience of your business.
Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
To make meaningful progress towards any of these goals, we need to have strong policies and institutions that help guide the process. Goal 16 promotes peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
What actions can your business take? Your business can directly promote the achievement of this goal by implementing strong sustainability policies in your business that help you to make progress, monitor, and report on your activities in a transparent and accessible way. These policies can include preferred purchasing agreements, a code of ethics, and net zero targets.
Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals
No one will be able to achieve all of the SDGs on their own. They are complex and interconnected and will require diverse individuals working together to achieve the best possible outcomes. Goal 17 aims to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.
What actions can your business take? As a business, you will likely focus on a select few of the goals. Collaborate with others with similar focuses as well as those with completely different priorities. There will be overlap and connections that will strengthen your efforts to advance the SDGs and become a more sustainable business.
How to Get Started?
There are a lot of opportunities for your business relating to the SDGs. This is incredibly exciting, but can also make it tough to decide where to start. The first step will be to identify which goals are most relevant to your business. Prioritise these goals and brainstorm actions with your team members.
Some easy actions to get started that can connect to multiple goals include:
- Educate your team members about the SDGs and their role in sustainability globally and in your company specifically.
- Ensure you are paying a living wage and are hiring in an inclusive and equitable way.
- Source your raw materials from companies that follow environmental and human rights best practices.
- Engage with your internal and external stakeholders on charitable projects that add value to your community.
- Collaborate with other businesses to implement circular economy principles to minimise waste and promote responsible production and consumption.
Now that you know where to start it is time to start building your sustainability strategy. Check out our blog on 5 key areas that your sustainability strategy can help your business with.