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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – where to begin?

It is often hard to connect your day to day work with how it impacts the world. Even as a sustainability professional, there is frequently a disconnect between your activities and broader global issues such as poverty, gender equality or peace and justice. However, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out to forge that connection and define the role of governments, civil society and companies around the globe in the delivery of the goals. A recent article by Ethical Corp states that ‘60% of companies are integrating the SDGs into business strategy’. At Anthesis, we are seeing more and more of our clients and broader networks moving towards these goals, citing both the global benefit of addressing these challenges, as well as direct business benefits, including:

  • Identifying and managing material risks and costs.
  • Technology, product, service and business model innovation that contributes to the SDGs, and also offers opportunities to reach new growth markets and strengthen competitiveness.
  • Strengthening relationships with employees, customers and other stakeholders.

What are the SDGs?

For those not familiar with the SDGs, they were initiated at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, with the intent of creating a set of universal goals that meet the world’s urgent environmental, political and economic challenges[1].

Where to begin?

While SDGs can play a critical role of focusing business, civil society and governments on a set of common goals to address key global challenges, connecting your business objectives to the goals may still be somewhat overwhelming at first glance. The 17 SDGs are intentionally high-level in nature to ensure they are broadly applicable and adaptable. These 17 goals are then further refined through relevant business themes and by 169 mid-level targets. Tools like the SDG Compass offer insight into hundreds of relevant business tools and indicators which relate to each target/goal. For example:

SDGs flowchart

Adapted from the SDG Compass

The Challenge

While it is not expected that companies can align their goals with all 17 SDGs, they are expected to identify which goals are most relevant to their business, i.e. where the company has an opportunity to contribute to the goals throughout the full value chain of their business. It is therefore important to approach the SDGs in a focused and streamlined manner to avoid the many potential ‘rabbit holes’ you could find yourself in as you explore the 169 SDG targets. In addition, the purpose of the goals is to address some of the key challenges facing the world, therefore, your organization should be sure to focus in on areas where your actions have real and tangible impacts.

Our recommendations

In many cases, organizations are already working on many initiatives which complement the SDGs. For that reason, our recommended approach builds on your existing activities wherever possible to allow for a streamlined response. Our recommended 4-step process (described in more detail in our SDG Implementation Guide) starts by mapping your value chain against the SDGs, and ends with you setting and communicating your own goals.

SDGs flowchart

Next Steps

If you are one of the many companies already engaged in the SDGs, it is worthwhile to review your process against the above steps to be sure you have captured the full intent of the global goals. Additionally, as with any goal-setting process, it is essential to continually monitor your progress against these goals, as well as ensure the initial scan of the goals is re-visited should your company expand into new geographic regions or product markets.

If you are interested in starting the process, the above steps should help provide some guidance and insight into what you are taking on. If it seems like a lot to think about, well… it is, but when your goal is to solve some of the world’s biggest problems, it makes sense to take a strategic and evidence-based approach!

Wherever you are on your SDG journey, our team of experts is here to help.  Please contact Principal Consultant Josh.Hendry@anthesisgroup.com  you would like to find about more about how Anthesis can help you with your SDGs. Or alternatively, use our form below:


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[1] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html

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