The UN SDGs

In late 2020, sustainability professionals from three major companies burst my bubble (one I didn’t even know I was in), during a webinar. I won’t name the companies, because what would that gain? The point is that all three are considered sustainability leaders in their sector and each one effectively dismissed the SDGs as ‘something we do at a high level and talk about within the industry, but not externally, as it’s too confusing for people’ (I’m paraphrasing of course, but you get the gist).

Perhaps you agree and believe it doesn’t matter so much that companies communicate as long as they do the right thing. That argument has merit but having spent 20+ years working in communications within CR field, I know just how powerful inspirational comms can be. This is further amplified when the comms come from a competitor, supplier or customer.

Increasingly, we know consumers are aware of and making purchasing decisions based on a company’s sustainability credentials. Why then would we not seek to positively influence them through education on something as fundamental as the Global Goals?

What Progress are we Making?

We’re now one third of the way towards the 2030 target for achieving the SDGs and we’re way behind schedule. As you might imagine, Covid-19 hasn’t helped, impeding progress towards the Goals at both country and global levels in the past year.

In the 2020 Sustainable Development Report the UK and Ireland come 13th and 14th respectively. That this is out of 166 countries makes it pretty reasonable, but this is about much more than topping a league table. This is about the future of our planet, which right now, isn’t looking terribly positive. That’s the very reason the UN created the Goals back in 2015. These aren’t ‘nice to have’, they’re absolutely necessary. What’s more, they apply to every country, albeit with varying degrees of urgency per Goal.

Around 2017,  I took a paper on the SDGs to a Business in the Community (BITC) NI Board meeting. It outlined why, as the leader on corporate responsibility, we should be driving business’ awareness and understanding of the Goals. Much to my frustration, the pitch didn’t fly. Many of the senior business leaders around the table just didn’t see that they were relevant in the developed world. We were simply too far ahead of the curve at that point.

Thankfully, awareness and understanding grew quickly and BITC is now at driving private sector engagement in achieving the Goals.

The Power of People

When it comes to the general public however, awareness is low. I firmly believe the sustainable development agenda should be on the school curriculum, but it isn’t. I have two teenage sons and I’ve taught them about the Goals, albeit at a fairly high level. They learned nothing about the SDGs at school. I find that somewhat depressing, given their importance to the state of the world they will inherit.

People aren’t expected to contribute to the Goals as individuals but as members of society, we each have a stake in their achievement. As businesses, we know the unstoppable power generated by popular support for a movement or an idea. That being the case, why WOULDN’T we try to influence more people to care about the efforts needed to improve the world we live in by 2030?

A Super year for Sustainability?

There’s been a lot of talk about making 2021 the Super-Year for Sustainability. I hope that gains traction and becomes a reality. I can certainly see a growing awareness by companies and a steady movement towards strategic decision-making informed by sustainability-thinking.

The point I’m trying to make is, there’s a roadmap already in existence. No-one needs to start from zero when it comes to embracing sustainability or a more ethical approach to doing business. The SDGs provide a valuable framework that can inform and shape your approach. You can choose the priority issues that most affect your company and on which you can make the biggest positive impact. You don’t need to commit to all 17 Goals. More than 12,000 businesses have now signed up to the UN Global Compact and are committed to the Global Goals, so you’d be joining a growing movement.

Why the SDGs Matter

So, we have a decade left, but there’s no time like the present. There’s also still time to make your most important ever New Year resolution if that’s your thing. Commit to the SDGs – whether by focusing on one Goal where you can make a difference or embracing them all – commit and then shout about it. Tell everyone – customers, suppliers, employees, investors, the media, regulators, government and more – tell them what you’re doing and why. Help people to understand why the SDGs matter and make these truly common Goals with the power to transform our world by 2030.

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