The UN Sustainable Development Goals are targets for overcoming some of the world's hardest challenges.
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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were initiated at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 with the intent of creating a set of universal goals that met the world’s most urgent environmental, political and economic challenges. The SDGs play a critical role in focusing business, civil society, governments and individuals on a set of common goals to address key global challenges.
In total, there are 17 headline SDGs which are unpinned and supported by 169 targets. Such goals include ‘No Poverty’ (SDG 1), ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ (SDG 7), Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12) and Climate Action (SDG 13).
These are intentionally high-level and aspirational and are designed to be a rallying point for governments, NGOs, business and individuals.
At first glance, connecting your business objectives to the Goals may seem overwhelming and complicated, or simply irrelevant. How is one business expected to set goals to achieve zero hunger (SDG 2) or build sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11)?
But it is important to remember that the point of the SDGs is to create focused collective action to tackle global issues. Businesses were involved in their creation partly because they knew there were global challenges no company could tackle alone, and which required a shared approach.
The role of individual companies is to align their efforts with the most relevant SDGs and make positive changes within their sphere of influence.
Many governments are now shaping and implementing national policy and regulation around the SDGs, so understanding the Goals and aligning your commercial strategy with them can help create competitive advantage and more resilient business models.
Achieving the SDGs is an open process - anyone can decide to do something to contribute to a goal; from an individual to a multinational business. Below are five steps your business can take to identify the most relevant Goals, set targets and drive measurable impact.
1) Understand your business and value chain impacts
This may sound unnecessary or too obvious, but, it is especially important if you don’t already have an existing sustainability strategy.
Mapping out your company’s direct and indirect value chain impacts (for example key supplier locations, impacts from the use of your products or services and direct impacts of your operations, customer/use and end of life) will help you identify where your impact overlaps with the SDGs, and places where there might be commercial opportunities in making a contribution to an SDG.
This mapping should make it clearer which SDGs are relevant to your business as a whole.
2) Align with the SDGs
No business can act on all 17 Goals or prioritise them all equally. Instead you need to identify a few that really speak to you and your business and fall within your sphere of influence, allowing you to make the most positive impact.
This may be just one goal or several, (the exact number should depend on the size, impacts and capacity of your business) but the Goals you choose should be the ones that align most closely with your business needs, priorities and stakeholder interests.
3) Identify SDG targets
With around 10 targets per goal, once you have selected the high-level SDGs you want to contribute to, you will need to select and prioritise of the most relevant targets you are going to measure and track. This may be based on relevance and alignment with your business, metrics and goals you already track, business objectives and strategies, and those that resonate with your employees.
4) Gap analysis
With a short list of Goals and targets identified, it’s now necessary to identify gaps in existing measurements and in business practices against the list outlined. Setting internal business goals and the plans to meet them will help to engage your colleagues regarding improving opportunities, helping to contribute to the SDGs.
5) Put plans into action
The point of the SDGs is not to track, measure and align but to take real, meaningful, collective action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. The Goals provide a framework to encourage businesses, organizations and individuals to make changes and drive global improvement, so don’t let your SDG related targets slip, or lie forgotten.
Take action and make improvements. It’s also important to communicate regularly with staff on how the efforts are going to make sure your targeted SDGs are visible and become part of normal business activity.
Many businesses decide to publish their targets and progress which demonstrates the collective impact business can have. This shows the importance of the Goals, which can be engaging for employees and business partners and can encourage dialogue with stakeholders. Even if you don’t want to publish your progress, talking about your commitment can benefit your reputation, raise the profile of the Goals, and encourage others to follow suit.
Companies can announce goals aligned with the SDGs on the United Nations website, using www.business.un.org.
Anthesis can help you through all stages of this process. Using our wide-ranging sustainability expertise, we can help you understand the impacts of your business, identify the appropriate SDGs, set targets and develop a strategic approach to create the greatest impact.