17 sustainable development goals for a better world
More and more often, reference is made to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Underneath this acronym, which is undoubtedly shaping the CSR scene, lies an ambitious goal of the United Nations (UN). Indeed, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global call to action to eradicate poverty. And also, to protect the Planet and ensure that all human beings live in peace and prosperity.
What is the origin of the SDGs?
The SDGs came into being at the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. This set of universal goals was developed to address the urgent ecological, political and economic challenges facing the planet.
The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), global efforts to combat poverty. They set measurable, consensus-based targets to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, prevent killer diseases, and expand schooling to all primary school-age children, among other development priorities.
The SDGs are divided into 17 interdependent themes (protection of the earth’s flora and fauna, access to quality education, etc.). The success of one contributes to the success of the others. For example, combating the threat of climate change influences the way we manage our natural resources. Achieving gender equality or better health helps eradicate poverty. Building peace reduces inequality and contributes to thriving economies.
The SDGs coincided with another historic agreement, reached in 2015 at the famous COP21: The Paris Agreement. This agreement sets a set of common standards and achievable targets for reducing carbon emissions, managing the risks of climate change and natural disasters, and building capacity for post-crisis recovery.
Why should companies integrate the SDGs in their strategy?
Today, business and financial actors are explicitly called upon to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to participate in economic development that respects people and the planet.
Through their economic power, companies have the power to contribute positively to the achievement of the SDGs, or on the contrary to hinder their attainment. Companies and investors can contribute to the SDGs by developing business models that respond directly to one or more of these goals while trying to limit their negative impacts, for example on climate, health or employment.
Companies are increasingly called upon by their stakeholders (their employees, their customers among others) to show how they contribute to solving major global challenges. The SDGs allow companies to see if their strategy is aligned with these expectations and challenges.
The SDGs can also be used as an analytical grid to detect market opportunities or, in the case of an investor, to identify the companies that will be best able to seize them.
To contribute to the SDGs, it is no longer a matter of simply reducing negative impacts, as is still too often the case in a societal responsibility approach, but of seeing how one’s business model contributes positively to the sustainability of the planet. Companies can obviously contribute to the SDGs through donations and corporate philanthropy. This is an opportunity to help actors of the common good (associations, NGOs…)
According to data from UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), the cost of the SDGs is estimated at between 5,000 and 7,000 billion dollars per year. A significant portion is dedicated to climate resilient infrastructure.
An opportunity to generate positive impact
The SDGs could generate business opportunities in the range of $12 trillion per year according to the “Better Business, Better World” study published in 2017 by the Business and Sustainable Commission (BSC). Four major business sectors, critical to achieving the SDGs and representing 60% of the real economy, are particularly concerned: food and agriculture; construction and urban planning; energy and materials; and health and well-being.
The opportunities are significant because it is a matter of inventing and developing alternative business models to the so-called linear economy (produce, consume, throw away) such as the circular economy, the economy of functionality, the collaborative economy or biomimicry. More concretely, the study cites smart cities, urban micro-farms, individualized health services, new forms of energy and storage, or innovative materials.
These different sectors could provide 380 million jobs, the vast majority in developing countries, including construction.
The SDGs have made it possible to create a universal reference but also to act as a compass for thinking and developing corporate CSR strategies.
credit – SDG UN