The UN Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs were, introduced in September 2015. Here’s how to build them into your SME business so everyone benefits.
On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit — officially came into force.
So says the UN SDG website (although you’d be forgiven for missing it).
We’ve blogged about them before here, where we reported the findings of an online survey conducted for us by the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce in March 2016 in which we tested awareness of the SDGs among Lancashire businesses. We found that:
4% were very aware
25% were somewhat aware
30% were not very aware
40% were not at all aware
That’s over two-thirds (70%) of businesses that had limited if any awareness of the SDGs. With awareness that low, we felt it was safe to assume that these businesses were therefore unlikely to be taking any steps to embrace strategies that will embed SDG principles in their operations.
Over a year later and it seems unlikely that much has changed. According to a survey of 500 sustainability professionals, carried out by Globescan and SustainAbility, more than 50% believe that progress on transition to sustainable development has been poor to date.
Apart from a lack of awareness, the problem among SMEs – which dominate the business landscape, making up over 99.96% of all British companies at the end of 2016 – is that it’s not easy to see how the SDGs are relevant to what they do and, putting it bluntly, what’s in it for them. There’s also a real lack of practical guidance out there.
So, let’s fix that.
A quick recap: what are the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals?
The SDGs (also known as the ‘Global Goals’) are the latest iteration of a set of guiding principles that we can trace back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
The Rio Earth Summit (or UN Conference on Environment and Development to give it its proper name) was the first real international attempt at drawing up action plans and strategies for moving towards a more sustainable pattern of consumption and development. In part, this was a response to the 1987 Bruntland Commission report ‘Our Common Future’ which concluded that human activity was having severe and negative impacts on the planet, and that patterns of growth and development would be unsustainable if they continued unchecked.
The Bruntland report is what gave us the often quoted and now ‘classic’ definition of sustainable development:
“Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The Sustainable Development Goals update and expand on previous efforts to define a set of over-arching themes upon which solid improvement action can be based in order to better align development with environmental protection and a host of other societal demands.
The goals are:
Goal 1: No poverty
Goal 2: Zero hunger
Goal 3: Good health and well-being
Goal 4: Quality education
Goal 5: Gender equality
Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation
Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy
Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth
Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure
Goal 10: Reduced inequalities
Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities
Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production
Goal 13: Climate action
Goal 14: Life below water
Goal 15: Life on land
Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals
Each of these goals then has a set of time-limited targets.
But they’re too big for us…
Right, so now you know a bit more about the SDGs, but you’ll probably be wondering:
1. How on earth do we incorporate any of these into what we do?
2. Is it worth it? Can we have any impact?
3. What’s the business case for doing so?
Let’s take these in turn, in reverse order.
The business case for integrating SDG thinking is simple: socially, environmentally and ethically conscious consumers are increasingly picky about who they buy from, and make their selection partly on the sustainability and CSR performance of companies – so, there’s a competitive advantage to be gained, and an increase in sales revenue. Not only that, but in many cases, you’ll also reduce your costs. Add all that together and you’ve got bigger profits.
Is it worth it? You may not imagine so to begin with – some of these goals, like ending poverty, aren’t something your SME business will be able to achieve on its own, obviously. But if you can help lift one family out of poverty, you’ll be making a significant difference to them. Forever.
And how do you incorporate them into what you do?
Aligning them with your broader business objectives
If you’re serious about building the SDGs into your SME business, you need to start by going through the goals and targets one-by-one and then, in the context of what your business does, think about how you can link them to your existing efforts and also use them as the basis for new ones.
Obviously, this will differ from business-to-business, but here you’ll find a handy guide we’ve produced that contains practical examples of how the SDGs and their targets can be purposefully tied to what you do.
Key is showing how implementing the different Sustainable Development Goals and relevant, applicable targets help you achieve your financial objectives. So think about expressing them like this:
By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
Pay everyone at least the National Living Wage as determined by the Living Wage Foundation. Currently, this is £8.45 an hour outside London. Consider becoming an accredited Living Wage Employer.
– Recognition as a Living Wage Employer
– Increase in overhead expenditure
– Higher workforce satisfaction and engagement
– Less absenteeism
– Lower staff turnover
– Improved morale
– Lower recruitment and retraining costs
There you go, that was easier than you thought, wasn’t it?
For more helpful ideas and advice, remember [email protected]