The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 Global Goals, spearheaded by the United Nations to transform the world around a common agenda for sustainable development.
The goals provide a framework for formulating responses to the worlds most pressing challenges – from climate action to gender equality, life below water to decent work and economic growth.
A recent Corporate Citizenship study found that 81% of millennials believe that the private sector has a very important role to play in achieving the Global Goals, to which businesses of all sizes can contribute. In spite of this, the majority of companies surveyed are not yet taking action to address them.
A great opportunity for small business sustainability
Companies should consider where their business activities impact the planet, people and the economy and select the goals they can most easily affect, developing responses compatible with the goals and in-keeping with their broader business purpose.
Sustainability can easily become overly complicated and overly scientific. But in terms of making a tangible difference, it doesn’t have to be. Everybody can relate to the sentiment behind goals such as clean water and quality education, for example.
Thinking about sustainability in the context of global goals highlights where the contribution made by your small business fits into the future of humankind.
The goals seek to engage everybody, including your customers, competitors and suppliers around sustainability, providing a platform of shared ambition.
Bright and colourful, sharing your commitment to the global goals can be used to highlight your small business responsibility.
Using the global goals
Lets say that you are a local independent coffee store. You identify “Goal 2: Zero hunger”, and as you employ a team of five, “Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth” as goals applicable to your small business. Delving deeper into the goals, you find targets and indicators that allow you to direct your efforts towards more specific ends.
For example, within goal 2, target 2.4 states: “By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.”
As a responsible retailer of coffee and tea, you may choose to spearhead this goal by questioning the sustainability credentials of your suppliers, opt to source organic or fair-trade products or liaise with a coffee producer to improve the agricultural input quality and therefore quality of your product. An associated indicator may be to aim to obtain a portion of your product from an organic source by 2020.
For goal 8, target 8.6 states: “By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.”
As an employer, you may decide to work with a local college to offer a work experience placement or create an apprenticeship opportunity. An associated indicator may be to aim to provide new employment opportunities for two young people over the next five years.
Unlocking the business case for sustainability
The goals are a clear business opportunity, and underline that the competitiveness and health of a company, as well as the health (environmental and social) of the communities it affects or can be affected by are mutually dependent. As consumers seek out sustainability and the need for companies to engage with environmental and social matters grows, the companies that will thrive are those that seek to unlock sustainability by engaging with ambition, such as that proposed by the Global Sustainable Development Goals.
This is a guest post, by Oliver Bradley from Smart Sustainability Co. Smart Sustainability Co. offers a suite of advisory and management services, empowering their clients to take a strategic approach to sustainability. By fusing creativity and research to drive innovation, Smart Sustainability Co. develop strategies and solutions to improve environmental, social and business performance.