The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Explained

In 2015 the sustainable development goals (SDGs) were born. They are a set of set of 17 goals, 169 targets and indicators that all 193 UN member states will be expected to use this frame in their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.

It took 8 million people to discuss and design this framework in three years and it will end by 2030.

The idea behind these goals is to set a picture of … “If we are to achieve these 17 goals our planet, our people and our economies will be fundamentally changed”. In other words… leave no one behind.

Previously the UN developed numinous frameworks, but they were either directed towards the developed world or the underdeveloped world. The SDGs is the first to address all countries to work together to save our planet and people.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals Explained
Click on the pic for a short video explaining the UN’s 17 SDGs

What are the proposed 17 goals?

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Advertisement
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

Ok… But what does each goal really entail?

Within the goals are 169 targets, to put a bit of meat on the bones. Targets under goal one, for example, include reducing by at least half the number of people living in poverty by 2030, and eradicating extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 a day). Under goal five, there’s a target on eliminating violence against women, while goal 16 has a target to promote the rule of law and equal access to justice. Guardian

Are organisations expected to achieve all 17 goals?

No, each organisation will have a set of goals that would be applicable to its business model and there are very few organisations who have all goals applicable to its model.

How do organisations incorporate SDGs into their ESG strategies?

When organisations design their sustainability strategies, they tend to use SDGs as their north star after which they would incorporate the sustainability themes, goals, issues, KPIs and narrative.

For example, Astra Zeneca has three sustainability pillars they are: Access to Healthcare (SDG# 3), Environmental Protection (SDG#13/15), and Ethics and Transparency (SDG #16). They also ensured that Sustainability is one of four core components in their business strategy and is an enterprise-wide priority.

Is everyone happy with the proposed framework?

Not everyone is fond of the SDGs as some countries feel that an agenda consisting of 17 goals is too awkward to implement or sell to the public and would prefer a slimmer brief. Some organisations find themselves, hand tied because they want to make a difference but the political, and economical infrastructure within the countries they operate in is not helping them bring these SDGs to life.

To conclude, this model acts a guideline and an overarching narrative hence it is currently being interpreted and implemented differently within each country, society, and organisation. It is a model that is impossible to measure.

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Gihan Hyde
Gihan Hyde is an award winning corporate communication expert with a deep passion for internal communication. Her roles spanned different organisations including HSBC, Barclays, M&S, and Department for International Trade, and the Riyadh Metro Project.
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