With 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in total, aligning with this United Nations’ blueprint to forge a more sustainable and equitable world by 2030 at first appears intimidating to some of us in the private sector. But the genius of the SDGs is that they are designed so companies can sort out which ones are in lockstep with their long-term strategies. And as we pointed out a few months ago, the SDGs are not only for multinationals – smaller companies can also do their part by aligning their operations and strategies with these goals.
With that said, companies that want to do their part to accelerate social and environmental good should consider focusing on these six SDGs during the coming year.
SDG #2: Zero Hunger
A recent Public Radio International report reinforced a most disturbing fact. Across the globe, many of the food industry workers and farmworkers who are integral to our food supply are among the world’s poorest people and are, cruelly enough, at the most risk of food insecurity. To paraphrase a timeless 1992 U.S. presidential campaign talking point, it’s the supply chain, stupid! Food companies can do a lot on this particular SDG, as they can feed (let’s not say kill) two birds with one stone. First, they could work with their furthest reaches of the supply chain to ensure farmers can feed themselves and their communities while increasing their incomes – which, secondly, would also help build a reliable base of suppliers. Mars Inc. and its work with mint farmers offers once such case study of how this SDG can come closer to fruition.
SDG #5: Gender Equality
As Mary Mazzoni discussed last week, guaranteeing that all girls and women have the same opportunities as boys and men is not only a moral imperative – it is an economic one as well. Narrowing the global workforce gender gap could add $28 trillion to the global GDP, according to a Council on Foreign Relations study. But the stubborn fact persists that far fewer women than men participate in the global workforce, and women around the world continue to earn less than their male counterparts, as data from the most recent annual World Economic Forum Gender Equality Index concluded. This is more than about the #MeToo and #TimesUp agendas; companies can lead by example and boost gender equality becomes reality by taking on projects such as supply chain diversity programs.
SDG #6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Many were aghast as Cape Town came dangerously close to running out of water last year. The scenario could repeat itself soon anywhere. Worldwide, countries from Greece to Pakistan are at risk of succumbing to water scarcity. All this news may seem ominous, but the evidence suggests there is still plenty of time to plan and prevent the ravages of drought and floods. The price tag won’t be cheap, however; a 2016 World Bank study suggested that providing the world’s citizens have access to clean water and sanitation by 2030 could cost $114 billion. Nevertheless, the costs could be far higher in 11 years if the gap between water supply and demand widens, as some experts have suggested. Providing technology, human capital and investment in order to expand access to safe water can bolster this SDG, and would allow companies to shine.
SDG #10: Reduce Inequality within and among Countries
Some facets of SDG #10 are out of the private sector’s hands. Take Goal 10.7: “Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration . . . through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.” Here in North America, we have seen how chaos reigns in a horrific way along the southern U.S. border, but that is a function of public policy, and there is little room here for private sector action.
But there is plenty of work companies can achieve on confronting inequality. Just because a country lacks a legal framework such as the U.S. Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act does not mean a company operating within that same nation cannot take leadership on this challenge. Proven hiring practices that do not discriminate on age, sexual orientation, gender or disability can send a strong signal. Programs that boost financial inclusion also offer low-hanging fruit for companies that are looking to the SDGs for honing their social sustainability strategies.
SDG #7: Affordable and Clean Energy, and SDG #13: Climate Action
The year 2020 was a catchy number for regions such as the European Union as they established goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions (which is tied to SDG #13) and clean energy deployment (covered by SDG #7). Those goals sure seemed to be a good idea last decade, when many of these goals were formulated. But there’s a slight challenge now, folks. 2020, in case you haven’t noticed, is next year. The news is not all foreboding: California could meet its 2030 renewables targets by 2020. Continued leadership from the private sector, however, could guarantee that 2020 will be a year of achievement instead of angst. And by leadership, we mean investment, not just advocacy.
Image credit: Leon Kaye
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.