What Do the SDGs Mean for Your Employees?

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By Marianne Hughes

We might have heard a lot about the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals since their launch late last year. But we at GivingForce still find ourselves discussing how to best apply them to business. Could the answer be through your people?

We recently went along to a corporate social responsibility (CSR) meet-up at the London Business School, where we heard Katherine Rusack of BITC speak about what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for business. Since then, we’ve been thinking about the impact of the SDGS on the people in your business, meaning your employees. How can big business make an impact on the global goals through engaging their employees?

The SDGs were prepared by U.N. members in order to tackle major development challenges by 2030. There are a total of 17 goals, which cover a range of topics from gender equality to hunger to climate change. The SDGs follow the Millennium Development Goals, but call for a bigger engagement from business in particular.

The SDGs aim to impact some of the world’s biggest challenges, yet packaging them into workable goals for organizations brings some big challenges in itself. We’re going to focus in on a couple of the challenges: engagement and measuring progress.

Engagement with the SDGs and raising awareness of them is the first step, with the U.N. already launching fun graphics and social media campaigns to engage the wider public. Inside organizations, we wonder what business might be doing to engage their employees with the SDGs. First it means getting buy-in from the top and choosing which SDGs your business will focus on.

Each organization and industry is different, and a study from PwC shows how industries varied by their choices of SDGs. Interestingly, one of the most popular was SDG No. 8: promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. This goal is one which most businesses feel they can make an impact, by ensuring that as an employer they align with the SDGs.

This goal could be interpreted from different angles, for example many organizations might relate it to ensuring their global supply chain complies with the Modern Slavery Act. The SDGs are meant to apply equally to all nations. So, if we look more locally in our role as an employer, should we also ensure our staff are engaged with the SDGs?

After engagement, the challenge becomes measuring progress against the SDGs. The magic key to unlocking progress is gathering data: Efforts to engage can be wasted if that engagement can’t be measured, proven or traced.

As we search for the most effective ways to both engage our staff with the SDGs and measure our progress toward the SDGs, we wondered how we might help solve these two challenges at the same time. We have found that by allowing employees to generate their own data toward goals, for example logging their volunteering hours or setting up payroll giving, engagement increases whilst data collection becomes quick and reliable. Instead of spending time collecting the data, CSR professionals interpret it and extract key metrics for reporting.

Interpreting the data has, in some cases, come to mean not just progress toward a goal, but also trying to measure impact. Once an employee has participated in an activity such as volunteering, what is the impact as a result on not just the employee, but the local community or the charity involved? We have found encouraging feedback from employees and charities can produce an indication of the impact. Impact needs to be measured over the long term, which we need to start measuring effectively now so that by 2030 we can try to imagine the impact of business on the SDGs.

Employee volunteering and involvement in local communities seems to be going through a wave of growth, which is just one of the possible implications of the SDGs on your employees. Do let us know what you think the SDGs mean for your employees in the comments section. 

Graphic of the SDGs from sustainabledevelopment.un.org

Marianne Hughes works in client relations at GivingForce.

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