The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals put forth by the United Nations in 2015, which address some of the most profound challenges we face as a global community. They are becoming an increasingly important theme of our time and, as it goes, more and more organizations seek to align their strategies with the SDGs and implement them into their decision making. Some have started with this, some haven’t, and some are struggling. This is a list of considerations that you might find useful when dealing with the SDGs:
- There are underlying targets and indicators to each goal. An SDG does not stand by itself. Instead, for all SDGs, there is two or more targets; and for all targets, there is multiple indicators. These targets and indicators are subsets of goals that specify the broader SDG, if you will. Goal #8 ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, for instance, is comprised of twelve underlying targets and according indicators, that explain to us in more detail what decent work and economic growth would look like. It is crucial that we handle the SDGs on that very level of targets and indicators, so we can contribute to them in a meaningful way.
- The SDGs are the what, not the how. The SDGs, along with their targets and indicators, paint a picture of our lives in the year 2030. They describe a desirable status quo that we hopefully arrive at. They are the what. What they don’t speak of, however, is the how. They don’t lay out the road, they do not tell us how to make that transition and get to that status quo. This is what we still have to work out – in the process, we still need to find out which are the key levers to pull so that we may achieve ‘Quality Education’ and whose main responsibility it will be to protect ‘Life on Land’. Formulating the SDGs is a first step, now we need ideas on how to achieve them.
- Use the information that is out there. There is large teams from different institutions such as the UN or the GRI that work around the clock on facilitating the implementation of the SDGs for us as organizations and individuals. For example, earlier this year a guide for businesses on how to report on the SDGs, along with business-specific indicators for all goals and targets, has been published. It is highly professional work and emanates from the same source as the SDGs themselves, so let us use this knowledge and take it as a basis when designing our own frameworks around the SDGs.
- They make us look for the positive. The SDGs are very appealing because they are positively framed and have a visionary character to them. They give us a direction, speak of goals, something to accomplish. And we become enthusiastic. This is of course helpful and very much needed, but: when it comes to the point that we benchmark ourselves against the SDGs, it is perhaps too easy for us as individuals or businesses to make our stories about the positive impacts we have, possibly neglecting the negative ones. We already see many organizations reporting on the SDGs – they all state the SDGs they contribute to, but not the ones they harm. We must acknowledge, however, that (as of now) many of our activities , do indeed harm the accomplishment of the SDGs. Identifying these negative impacts, being transparent about them, and addressing them is as important as telling the stories about our positive contributions.
- They are bold, so let us be bold, too. The SDGs represent an opportunity to bring about a new paradigm for business, our economy, and for life in general. They speak of massive changes and radical improvements. Let us try to meet them with that same spirit, and with radical innovation. Instead of making only minor adjustments, clinging on to our current systems without truly challenging them, let’s think bigger about whether we can do things in a fundamentally different, but much more beneficial way.
The SDGs are great, because they give a face to ‘sustainability’, a term that often seems vague and that is difficult to define and narrow down. They create a ‘common language’. But we want more than this, we want to accomplish the SDGs and make them a reality. To do so, we must take the SDGs for what they are and we must understand them deeply. We must apply them cautiously and thoroughly, and communicate how we do so transparently.