UN workers

The UN Sustainable Development Goals: How Business Can Serve Society

28 May 2020

In 2015, the United Nations developed a shared blueprint for creating peace and prosperity for both people and the planet. This took the form of 17 interconnected sustainable development goals, to be implemented over the following 15 years. The overall aim is to build a better world for people whilst still caring for the environment.

the UNS sustainable development goals

You may have seen these around

Chances are you’ve probably come across the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) through either work or the media.

As a quick recap, they represent twenty years of collaborative effort between the UN and its member states to lay out a clear framework for improving the situation of the earth’s citizens, focusing on key areas such as inequality, poverty, hunger and climate change.

Five years in there have been some significant improvements, especially in electrification with 89% of people now having access to electricity and renewables seemingly beginning to take off, but there’s still some way to go.

hydroelectric dam
Renewable energy can come in many forms

As part of a wider global system, businesses rely on a stable world just as much as everything else.

Like nation-states, businesses can also use these SDGs as guidelines and play an important role in achieving the targets laid out.

It’s our hope that through our work, and the work of our partners, we can do our bit. However, we’re a one year-old-startup with big dreams and as of yet lack the same level of resources and influence as established corporates.

So, we thought we’d focus on a couple of the goals that are closest to our heart and how they’ve inspired some large corporations as well.

SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

un sustainable development goal 12

SDG 12 focuses on limiting global consumption and the over-extraction or degradation of environmental resources through production.

This is our North Star and the basis of all our processes and decision making. But, as mentioned above, we’re new kids on the block. What’s everyone else doing?

After some research, it seems that a few of the bigger corporations have taken note as well. In support of the SDGs, IKEA, a fellow Swedish company but with an enormous global presence and €41.3 billion annual turnover, have made wholesale changes to their operations.

IKEA electric charging station
Electric charging station at IKEA

IKEA has invested heavily in renewable energy, using sustainable sources for their materials, and implementing circularity principles that will encourage and empower consumers to consume less and reuse what they have.

As a result, in 2019 they were able to decrease their environmental footprint whilst still growing in sales and revenue.

All in all really nice work and proof that incorporating sustainable targets doesn’t have to be at the detriment of profitability and growth—quite the opposite it would seem.

SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

UN Sustainable Development goal 13

Industry, as the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter, can certainly play a part here. We talk about climate change a lot as, without putting too fine a point on it, it poses such a disastrous threat to our species.

As a carbon negative company, we reduce carbon emissions from our operations and then offset what we do emit through carbon offset programmes.

Looking to the corporate world, Microsoft, who operate huge data centres as part of their cloud offering, manage to run this energy-intensive sector of their business carbon neutrally.

Their decision making behind this was also influenced and guided by the UN SDGs, and they also recently pledged to become carbon negative by 2030 and remove their entire lifetime carbon footprint by 2050.

Microsoft says the reason behind this is because they can afford to do so (again investment in sustainability seems to have improved the bottom line), but really it’s an investment in their future as much as anyone else’s.

portable solar panels

Props to them but, unfortunately, they still seem to be in the minority. Our research into Fortune 500 companies indicated that a shockingly small share of the world's largest corporations aren't taking climate change seriously enough as part of their strategic goals.

Sustainable goals = stronger companies

“To succeed, we must turn the global goals into local business.” - Lila Karbassi, Chief, Programmes, UN Global Compact.

By embracing the SDG agenda, companies across the spectrum have been able to make beneficial changes to their operations and positively impact the world.

It might seem somewhat contradictory for a business to want to limit consumption but this doesn’t seem to have affected IKEA’s sales negatively.

In the longer term, these examples show that companies proactively working toward a sustainable future can in fact gain a significant competitive advantage.

The UN themselves outline this as part of their compact, a toolbox for helping businesses to align with the SDGs.

The power of the individual contribution

Lastly, there are ways we can contribute as individuals too. Whereas the goals laid out in the SDGs may seem beyond our scope of influence, we can all take part on some level and, like with businesses, we stand to benefit too.

Simple actions such as turning out the lights whilst watching TV, or adjusting your thermostat, will save on energy and bills.

For inspiration, the UN has put together a ‘lazy person’s guide to saving the world’, so go forth!

neon sign

A Good Company + UN Sustainable Development Goals?

We support them all, that's a no-brainer! And because June is the official month to support Goal 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development, we will be spending this upcoming month on talking about what the different goals mean to us and how we can support them together – as a community.

"A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society."

- UN Sustainable Development Goal 17


If you have any questions or fun ideas about this (or anything really) feel free to get in touch with Emilia Cullborg, Editor and Head of Communication & Community Outreach.

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