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SDGs: Our global moon-shot moment for businesses

Every time I say SDGs it makes me think about my kids. But that’s not because I’m afraid of them contracting some sort of new disease. It’s because SDGs are the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (and 169 specific targets) adopted by the United Nations last September. They are a roadmap and the best hope for how to create a better world for my kids by 2030. This is no fairy tale, though some think there are so many goals that they may turn into a pipe dream. I choose to think of the SDGs as the hard work we must try to achieve, because the alternative is pretty devastating for so many people and for the planet.

This is important: the SDGs are for business people, not just global policy makers, national governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  If you’re short on time, skip the history lesson and details below, and read the section on How focusing on the SDGs can help your business.

A little history

This isn’t the first time the UN has come up with a list of global goals.  You may recall the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These were eight goals, with eighteen specific targets, that the UN set in September 2000 for addressing extreme poverty and the issues closely related to it, by 2015.  But the MDGs never really penetrated the public consciousness. They were the focus only of those inside global policy and international political circles.

You can click on each link below to see what the goals were.  Read about how we did in the official UN MDGs Report, with a summary here.  Suffice to say some really good progress was made, but the world didn’t hit it out of the global ballpark.

So why set new, bigger, and broader goals?

The SDGs are different

Let’s not kid ourselves; this is the world’s “moon-shot” moment. Despite the progress made on the MDGs, not nearly enough has been done to solve the many worldwide problems we face as a species and an ecosystem.  We know that people often need a big challenge to accomplish really hard things. Hurray if we succeed, amazing if we over-shoot and achieve more. But don’t hold your breath.  Instead, we have to actually do something.

And that’s probably the biggest difference between the MDGs and the SDGs. The global community has acknowledged that we won’t achieve the SDGs if the business community sits on the sideline.  Business needs to be part of the solution in a big way. Without the focus and participation from private enterprise, independently and in partnership with governments and NGOs, we won’t succeed.

What’s most inspiring to me about the SDGs challenge is that everyone can (and is expected and encouraged to) do something.

So what are the SDGs and how did they come to be?

Some have criticized the UN for biting off too much by setting too many goals and targets. But the nation states had to agree on all the goals, and they couldn’t agree on fewer than 17 as being critical. I think that’s important. That’s the big need and the big challenge; that’s why it’s our new global moon-shot moment. So here they are:

This is a lot to take in. To help, the UN created a Knowledge Platformdedicated to helping you find out more.  You can explore the goals and targets, and find a trove of information about partnerships and benefits of working on the SDGs.

Here’s a graphic that shows another way of thinking about the 17 goals that might help you focus on what’s most interesting and relevant to you:

How focusing on the SDGs can help your business

From a business perspective, think about the SDGs as a big roadmap of where global money and energy will be focused for the next fifteen years.  The one word that comes to mind is OPPORTUNITY.  From doing community impact projects that inspire your workforce to new business opportunities like accessing new markets and creating new products and services, this is good for the world and good for business.

A Global Sourcing Council flyer for business on SDGs notes, “According to estimates from McKinsey, consumers in [the new SDG] markets could have spending power of $30 trillion by 2025, a significant step up from the 2010 value of $12 trillion…. The price tag for accomplishing the SDGs is estimated to be up to $3 trillion a year for 15 years.” That sounds like a profitable investment in our future.

If you focus on the breadth of this challenge, you risk being overwhelmed.  But there are already some great resources being developed to help companies figure out which SDGs to focus on. Check out work being done in this area by SDG Compass and Corporate Citizenship.

The UN Global Compact and GRI – the UN’s corporate global sustainability organization and the world’s gold standard for sustainability reporting, respectively – have also joined forces to help the private sector engage and work on the SDGs.

One thing is clear.   The need to engage the business community on the SDGs, and the value of getting engaged on them, is not lost on world business leaders.  Companies that don’t look at the SDGs may miss a major business – and moral –opportunity.

What is Sustrana doing on the SDGs?

Hey, wait a minute!  We’re a business.  What can we do?  Well, we are in the process of making it easier for companies to find SDG-related work by linking the SDGs to the project ideas in our online Project Selector tool.  We’ll also be creating new project ideas for businesses specifically related to the SDGs. If you want to see how this will work, sign up for a free webinar demo of our online sustainability management system.

Beyond that, we are running some internal workshops this summer on the SDGs. We’re hoping to inspire our staff to get involved and look for additional ways that we can contribute as a company. And we’ll continue to write about the SDGs and post ideas and information useful to businesses on this blog.

It’s pretty exciting to be in an enormous moon-shot moment in time.  But it will be even more exciting – and rewarding – to be part of the SDGs success story.

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