What are the Global Goals and how can we use them to help our businesses be more sustainable and work together achieve the goals?

At the tail end of 2019 I was delighted to be invited to host a breakout session at the WeConnect European Conference and I took the chance to present an introduction to the UN SDGs, or Global Goals.

I’m passionate about these goals and sharing them whenever I can. My optimism about the power of these goals is two fold; firstly despite all our differences whole world, via the UN, we managed to agree this list and now it is up to everyone to work together to achieve them by 2030 and secondly setting these global goals works – in 2015, 10 per cent of the world’s population lived at or below $1.90 a day down from 16 per cent in 2010 and 36 per cent in 1990. (UN Ending Poverty: https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/poverty/).

If you haven’t heard of them before, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  are a universal call to action to not just end poverty, but also protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. They were unanimously ratified on September 25, 2015 when the 193-Member United Nations General Assembly formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

They build on the success of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and call for action by all countries – poor, rich and middle-income – to promote prosperity while protecting the environment and the ambition is to achieve them all by 2030.

Each goal has a number, a short name and a strapline that makes the ambition clear so Goal 5 is Gender Equality: achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.  To get to know the goals I suggest watching this video – it’s less than 3 minutes but gives a great run through of all 17 goals. ‘We The People’ for The Global Goals

Covering all three key pillars of sustainability; Environment, Social and Economic, there is no doubt the challenges the 17 Global Goals address, are huge. Often informally referred to as people, planet and profit we need to manage all three aspects to build a sustainable future for our planet .

You’ll have noticed by now that the goals have several names; the Global Goals is my preferred choice but they are also known as the Sustainable Develop Goals, which is frequently shortened to the SDGs  – I don’t need any more acronyms in my life, so I try to stick with the Global Goals.

There are also many, many overlaps across them- zero hunger is tied to good health, decent work and economic growth is tied in with responsible consumption and production and so on.

In line with good practice, they are SMART goals; each offers several specific and actionable targets that the world needs to achieve by 2030 along with detailed metrics to identify how progress to success will be tracked. This gives us 169 targets beneath the 17 goals and 232 Indicators, or KPIs beneath those.  Built to be used by countries rather than businesses these are not always directly relevant for business or individuals but there are many resources available to help  how they might be relevant to you or your organisation.

So how can we use these goals to Help our businesses be more sustainable and help achieve the goals?

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission’s 2017 report highlighted that putting the Global Goals, at the heart of the world’s economic strategy could be an opportunity for all businesses and unleash a step change in growth and productivity and details the four key opportunities:

Firstly, for all businesses, regardless of size or industry, sustainable business strategies could drive growth to unlock more than 12 trillion US dollars a year and up to 380 million jobs by 2030.

Secondly the report forecasts an investment boom in sustainable infrastructure and solutions that help us achieve the goals, and this will attract capital.  Even now, truly sustainable businesses as well as those that recognise this opportunity are an attractive investment because they are future proofed rather than blindly following business as usual.

The third opportunity is how the goals can help address risk– the goals are a response to the biggest risks we face globally and companies that publicly link their strategic priorities to the goals send a strong message to investors that they are managing environmental, social and governance risks.

Finally, the global goals can help companies focus on their purpose which in turn will drive employee, customer and investor engagement; this purpose can help build long-lasting positive change that may increase shareholder value over the long term.

Here is our short guide to using goals in your business:

Firstly take a deep dive into the Global Goals and look at all of the targets and at least some of the  KPIs beneath them and introduce them to the key people in your business. The goals need to be an integral part of your financial, strategic and operational goals and your internal processes.  Involving key stakeholders early will create a shared understanding and you’ll get everyone on board.

Next is assessing where your company’s highest impacts and strongest priorities are. Not all 17 SDGs are equally relevant for your company so assess both negative impacts as well the opportunities the goals present for you. Trying to set targets against all 17 can dilute your efforts; better to focus on fewer goals that are relevant for your business.

Having agreed your priorities, carefully consider your company’s level of ambition. Set your own SMART goals based on your priorities and then set key performance indicators (or KPIs)  and a baseline to help you drive, monitor, and communicate your progress.

It is also worth mentioning that a few ambitious goals are likely to drive greater impacts and better performance than more modest goals, and by defining ambitious goals no one knows exactly how to achieve, your company can spur innovation and incentivise creativity.  But do focus your effort – having a few key things to focus on is much more likely to achieve success.

Companies are increasingly using a variety of channels to communicate their sustainability strategy and performance as a key way to build trust and improve reputation.  Using your website, social media channels, events, product and service labeling, as well as your advertising channels to communicate with all your stakeholders, both internally and externally is essential.

All of us can play a part and for smaller businesses you can really differentiate by being a small brand that makes a big difference!

If you’d like more details on how to use the UN Global Goals to deliver sustainable change in your workplace, do get in touch. We’d love to help.

Useful Resources:

UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs

Better Business, Better World: http://report.businesscommission.org/report

Women Rising 2020: http://report.businesscommission.org/reports/womenrising2030-better-leadership-better-world

Make it your business: Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals: https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/sustainability/SDG/SDG%20Research_FINAL.pdf

SDG Compass: https://sdgcompass.org/

By Nicola Ainger, Managing Director at SustainIt Solutions