SDGs : how can we contribute?
A sustainability blog is not "complete" without discussing or addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. So here we go…
There is a lot to be said and done when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 is approaching rapidly!
Governments, NGOs, businesses and all of us can and have to contribute to making these goals a success because:
"We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B!" - Ban Ki-moon.
What are the SDGs? - PIC
Let’s start from the beginning.
On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" also known as the Sustainable Development Goals or often abbreviated into SDGs.
The SDGs consist of 17 goals and 169 targets and cover social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment and social justice. The goal is that we meet these targets and therefore the goals by 2030!
The SDGs succeed the MDGs or Millennium Development Goals (established in 2000) which ended in 2015 and you can see that a lot of goals are still present in the SDGs today.
We clearly fell short in meeting these goals due to various reasons however we need to start realizing that business and life, as usual, will not cut it anymore if we want to preserve ourselves as well as the beautiful planet we live on. I don’t know about you, but I would love to show my (unborn) children and their children and many generations to come how beautiful Mother Nature is.
I believe these 2 quotes capture well what needs to get done:
“If you do what you did, you get what you got” - Henry Ford
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them” - A. Einstein
Now, let’s investigate what the SDGs mean to business and us as citizens on a daily basis.
SDG’s and business
Generally, 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 (numbers from PWC Report)). However, Businesses clearly have a large role to play as well.
So, is it a good idea for businesses to sign up for the SDGs? Let’s have a closer look at the challenges and the opportunities.
In a report created by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in 2015, I thought it was interesting to see how businesses (92%) are much more aware of the SDGs than we as citizens (33%). This is promising, however, we need to go 1 step deeper and check if businesses are actually doing something to contribute to the SDGs.
The report states the following: “International companies will need to get to grips with the differing priorities of different countries and the national policies in place to deliver them. It’s not about tweaking what they do, but looking at core strategy. With no holistic view or understanding of how the SDGs interlink with each other or if a positive impact in one area creates a negative impact in another, it may prove complex to navigate... there will not be a “one size fits all” answer.”
Obviously focusing on 17 goals is not an easy thing to do. So what often seems to happen is that businesses pick and choose the goals which are believed they can impact the most. This results in quite a selective set of goals being focused on, which was not the intention of the UN, that states that the Goals should be seen in its entirety rather than cherry picking the ones that work for individual businesses.
As you can see from the graph below (figure 3), it is the same recurring ones across the sectors which also correspond to where the businesses see most opportunity and impact (figure 2). This also means that there are some key Goals which are at risk to be “forgotten” or neglected. The main ones being Ocean’s Life, No Poverty, Zero Hunger and Reduced Inequality.
One could argue that these areas are better suited for the NGO space, however, I don’t completely agree with that. Obviously, NGO’s are doing a great job with the means they have but the Business world are the ones that can really make the difference: by providing jobs, businesses can fight poverty and zero hunger and doing this respecting all people equally will contribute to the equality goal as well.
Life Under Water is often being put to the transport sector, however, most of the ocean pollution actually comes from land, not transport. So everyone needs to share that responsibility!
Signing up to the SDGs is perceived as a must by citizens though. The report describes that people are more likely to buy from companies that sign up and actively pursue the SDGs.
One of the challenges business are facing is to fully understand the impact they have on the SDG because of lack of clear measuring and data collection guidelines. The goals and targets also have clear links between each other which means one needs to understand that a positive impact on 1 goal might have a negative one on another. So this makes it more complicated than it might seem at first sight.
SDG’s and citizens
It isn’t just businesses that can make a difference when it comes to the SDGs. We as people, citizens and consumers have more power than what we think or give ourselves credit for.
Interestingly, the report states that only 33% of citizens are aware of the SDGs. The report dates back to 2015, so I am hopeful that the number has gone up by now! This is one of the reasons I decided to write about it.
Funnily enough, when asked in the PWC survey, the priorities within the SDGs for citizens are quite different from the business ones with the top 5 being Zero Hunger, Climate Action, Quality Education, No Poverty and Clean Water and Sanitation. Of these, only Climate Action makes it into the Business top 5. So we could say there is a disconnect between where the people would like to focus and where the businesses prefer to focus. More about that later.
So how can we make an impact on the SDGs? SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production is totally within our power to influence! The amount of stuff we buy and consume has increased exponentially over the years which has created an exponential increase in waste.
We can consciously choose to buy less AND we when we buy we can choose better and long-lasting products that have been produced honestly and ethically and environmentally sustainable, respecting the natural resources we are granted. And guess what, with that, we will also contribute to other SDGs such as:
No Poverty, since people are receiving fair wages;
Zero Hunger, since people with a fair wage, can afford to buy better food;
Quality Education, since parents can send their kids to school instead of having to work to provide for the family;
Good Health, since people who have more disposable income, can take better care of themselves;
Decent Work and Economic Growth, since ethical and fair production, allows for better jobs;
Climate Action, since using better and innovative materials have a positive impact on our climate;
Life on Land, since consciously produced products, care for life on land;
Life Below Water, and under the water!
By simply changing how much and what you buy you get to contribute to others and Mother Earth and probably save some money on top of it!
Yes, it can really be as easy as that!
Looking at Figure 10 (above) you can clearly see there is a disconnect between where the people’s priorities lie and where the businesses put their focus.
I am going to be bold here and state that I believe the businesses tend to focus where they can see additional profit where the citizens genuinely care about the people in less fortunate circumstances. Profit vs well-being.
I have been struggling a lot with this lately and if only we all would focus a little bit less on making money and a little bit more on what goes on around us, this world could be a much better place for everyone!
If companies were willing to pay at least minimum wage to workers and we are willing to 1 USD, EUR, GBP or CHF more per T-shirt, that would already make a huge difference!
Think long-term value rather than short-term profit! And also that starts with us! As investors, we also need to start making different demands and shift priorities!
When our planet is ruined and there is no more fish in the sea, money will not make it a better place! We created this situation, we can get ourselves out of it!
Sources and additional info:
Report UN on SDG progress 2018: