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Sustainable Development Goals: How can they be reached?

It has been a couple of years since the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but do all organisations understand what they are? And what has been the level of impact on the business community and understanding of the intentions of the SDGs?


We have previously looked at how blockchain can help us achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals. This article explores these areas and identifies some simple steps for businesses to take.

What are the UN SDGS?

The SDGs were published in January 2016, put simply as '17 goals to transform the world.' They follow on from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were global goals that aimed to tackle extreme poverty and hunger, deadly disease and expand primary education to all children. The MDGs were successful with the following key achievements:

  • More than one billion people lifted out of extreme poverty (since 1990)
  • Child mortality dropped by more than half (since 1990)
  • The number of children out of school dropped by more than half (since 1990)
  • HIV/ Aids infections fell by almost 40% (since 2000).

The SDGs are new goals which provide a pathway to sustainable development and aim to be achieved by 2030 to improve the lives of all citizens of the world. It is a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The SDGs consist of 17 goals:  


What do the SDGs mean for a business and are they achievable?

Previously the SDGs were aimed at a country and government level, tackling challenging issues on a global scale. However it is recognised that more could be done to strengthen the goals and engage with the business community.  The development of the SDGs made it clear that businesses are key players to achieving a successful outcome and are expected to contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. There is an opportunity for businesses to take a leading role in wider sustainable development issues - through areas such as innovation, collaboration and use of technology.

However, on first review of the goals you may wonder how these apply to businesses? This is because SDGs were based on the needs of developing countries - in order to ensure that all their citizens achieve the minimum standards of sustainable development by 2030. This does not however mean that more developed countries and middle income countries do not need to achieve more sustainable economies and organisations.

There is considerable pressure from stakeholders of all countries and businesses to align their strategies to the SDGs. It is important that companies continue to really understand the SDGs and related challenges and opportunities, and determine those most applicable to their operations in a transparent way. This can be achieved through a robust analysis and prioritisation of the most relevant SDGS.

There are companies who are yet to understand their role within the SDGs and how to support them. For those organisations, we make the following recommendations:

  • Review or undertake a robust materiality assessment in line with the SDGs to set goals and targets most appropriate for the company
  • Implement  strong management programmes and integrate these within its core business and governance processes
  • Work with the companies value chain and other sectors including governments, and civil society, establish who are key stakeholders and why
  • Consistently communicate and report on activities, impacts and progress. Reporting transparently on progress towards supporting the SDGs.

The SDGs are an exceptional opportunity for countries, governments and the business community to make the planet more sustainable and provide all citizens with opportunities to fulfil their potential.  We all have a part to play in the achievement of the SDGs and businesses have the opportunity as part of this by: establishing robust assessments; setting stretching targets; and engaging in public and transparent reporting and disclosure. 

Written by Louise Wood, Associate Director for Environment and Sustainability