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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

As organisations increasingly focus on their sustainability, it is worth them reviewing the United Nations' sustainability goals and how they may benefit by linking these to their own goals.

by John Hubbard

In New York during September 2015, 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) were adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit to provide a framework of action until 2030. These followed on from the eight ‘Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs), which were the focus of attention between 2000 and 2015. However, where the MDGs focused on what were referred to as ‘Developing Countries’, the replacements are intended to be global and should include improvement opportunities for all communities in the 193 countries that signed up to the programme.

The 17 goals, the iconography and the wheel symbol shown below have been designed to promote recognition of the goals across all the potential stakeholders.

The 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit

At first glance, these goals – made from 169 individual targets – look to be focused on the actions most fitting for a national government to take. On closer examination, however, many of them can be taken by individual organisations. Linking sustainability activities to these targets could be a good way of raising visibility of the actions that organisations are taking, both with regard to sustainability and with respect to other corporate social responsibilities.

UN goals reaching across the supply chain

It is recognised that industry and economic growth will be important drivers for achieving some of the goals – particularly those linked to poverty, hunger, education and communities. Manufacturing, however, needs to be responsible in order to meet other goals, on issues such as water quality and the preservation of biodiversity. It is also clear that goal number 12 combines both responsible production with responsible consumption, indicating that these goals reach right across the supply chain to the individual consumer. For consumers to make sustainable choices, they need information about what best delivers meaningful sustainability when they make purchasing decisions.

All 17 sustainable development goals are interconnected. In addition, the 169 individual targets have been designed to avoid progress in one area having a detrimental effect on achieving the other targets. A framework covering on five areas has therefore been adopted: ‘people’, ‘prosperity’, ‘peace’, ‘planet’ and ‘partnership’.

Traditionally, discussions on sustainability have focused on the discrete areas of the economy (prosperity), social aspects (people) and the environment (planet). However, these areas are not totally discrete – for instance, many diseases are not only rife in areas afflicted by poverty and with lack of access to healthcare, but could also be exacerbated by pollution and the lack of an infrastructure providing clean drinking water.

In order to make progress on the goals, it is recognised that stakeholders – including national governments, private enterprises and non-governmental organisations – need to work together to share experiences and gather data. They will also need to devise methods for collecting data for some indicators where measurements have not previously been determined, and formulate action plans to avoid duplication. This forms the ‘partnerships’, but progress can only be made if these actions can take place in regions free from conflict, with strong institutions delivering a sense of justice all of which forms the ‘peace’ element of the five areas mentioned above.

The goals have been developed with human rights at the centre of the targets and with a recognition that even in the world’s largest economies there are still many people who do not share the benefits of the economic activity. By focusing on the root causes of these, can ensure that ‘no-one is left behind’ – another central tenet underpinning the goals.

Pertinent questions

From a production supply chain perspective, the goals and their associated targets can raise a number of questions: i) where do the materials come from? ii) how are they produced? iii) what impacts will they have on the environment? and iv) do the people who work in the production have the resources they need to fully participate in their community and be able to continue to do so in the future – and have access to appropriate opportunities?

The UN goals and their targets raise questions about supply chain sourcing

SATRA has been working on a number of sustainable initiatives and we look forward to engaging with our members to help them frame their sustainable activities with a global perspective.

The photograph at the top of this article shows The United Nations General Assembly discussing the Sustainable Development Goals in 2017.

How can we help?

Please contact for more information on the UN Sustainable Development Goals or other aspects of sustainability.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 30 of the May 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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