SDGs for businesses: What are sustainable development goals?

Private sector 6 min read , February 18, 2021
  • Learn what the sustainable development goals are and where they came from.
  • How the impact of climate change is woven into all 17 SDGs.
  • By following the SDGs, businesses have huge growth opportunities!
SDGs for businesses: What are sustainable development goals?
SDGs for businesses: What are sustainable development goals?

To fight climate change, everyone — small businesses, corporations, governments, and citizens alike — must participate. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by the United Nations, and signed by 193 countries. It’s a framework for everyone to follow and to contribute. A basic question, what are the sustainable development goals? They’re simply goals that we’ve globally and mutually decided on because they’ll have a lasting impact on our society’s welfare. We’re all in this together is an understatement. Collective participation is mandatory to fight climate change, and the SDGs reflect this. That includes businesses too.

What are the sustainable development goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals, or also known as the SDGs, are a set of universally-established ambitious goals and action plans that address the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges facing our world. The goals are included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and provide nations and institutions with a shared vision and action plan.

The 2030 Agenda lays out five critical dimensions: people, prosperity, planet, partnership, and peace, also known as the 5P’s, to encourage us to think creatively, leverage innovative approaches, and think critically on how to approach development. The Agenda is the most comprehensive blueprint in existence today with specific goals on how to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet. It provides concrete and bold calls-to-action for people, the planet, and prosperity.

To direct the world towards a more sustainable and resilient path. That is the underlying narrative of the Agenda. And from the discussion, 17 UN sustainable development goals were created with each one addressing the five critical dimensions. The goals aren't a summary of the Agenda, rather a guidebook on where to focus sustainable development.

SDGs for businesses: What are sustainable development goals?
The 17 SDGs address universal principles and goals facing our world. Photo credit: UNGC

The 17 SDGs were also created to focus more on climate action and the obstacles facing our world due to climate change. Because of this, the document addresses specific climate-related actions. It’s also true that all 17 goals are interconnected, meaning that one goal’s success depends on the others. For example, climate change is affecting global health, poverty, and peace & prosperity.

Which SDG is about climate change?

Sustainable Development Goal #13 directly addresses climate change. It aims to take immediate action to combat climate change and its impacts on our planet.

The 17 SDGs were created with climate change as a baseline narrative. All the SDG goals address climate change or the impacts of climate change, and the UN says that climate change is interwoven through all the goals and will impact the successful outcome of each one.

The UN describes climate change as a 'threat multiplier' and similar verbiage has been used in the World Economic Forum’s recent 2021 Global Risk Report. Climate change will threaten (or even reverse) the positive progress we’ve made towards the 2030 Agenda and meeting the SDG goals. So it’s safe to say that fighting both climate change and focusing on sustainable development goes hand-in-hand.

For example, drastic weather patterns and natural disasters caused by climate change will intensify threatening livelihoods and destroying ecosystems. Climate change will trigger food and water shortages. Distribution to education and progress. Social and economic upheaval. So one can say that all the SDGs address climate change in some way with climate change as a central impactor to them all. The UN summarises in their report just how important climate action is to all 17 SDGs.

'We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations'. [1.10]

Why are SDGs important for business?

Sustainability is important for businesses to remain relevant in their market and current with changing global perspectives. Many of the challenges and risks outlined in the SDGs will both financially and socially impact businesses

Accelerating towards a fossil-free, sustainable future is arguably the biggest business opportunity in a century. By existing, a business has both a social impact on humans and a carbon footprint on the planet. Sustainability is a corporate responsibility. By becoming more sustainable, a business supports today’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations.

The SDGs offer a unique opportunity to align business sustainability goals with society’s goals. Following the SDGs as a framework is a strong guidebook to help businesses to communicate their sustainable measures, to help outline their sustainable goals, to show responsibility & sustainable leadership, and to create unique business opportunities. According to the UN, the business sector’s “successful implementation of the SDGs will strengthen the enabling environment for companies around the world”.

But many businesses don’t know where to start in their sustainable journey. At FutureproofedBusiness, we suggest starting with an SDG materiality workshop, which will provide you with actionable insights for your organisation to create sustainable value.

In a nutshell, by not participating in the SDGs, businesses limit their growth. A business can lose out on opportunities. Harnessing the SDGs in a business plan is clear. It will help businesses position themselves as global leaders committed to sustainability and transparency. Opportunities arise in global partnership and collaboration initiatives. Financial and investment opportunities also happen because of public and private sectors investing in climate-focused sustainability projects.

What are the risks of not following the SDGs? As a business, you risk facing multi-facet challenges like disrupted supply changes, lost growth opportunities in emerging markets, and decreasing natural resources due to climate change. You might also face lost opportunities in renewable and sustainable investments. The public and private sectors are increasing money flow to sustainability projects. Your brand identity might suffer or you might have difficulties in attracting talent in the job market. All of these are possible risks when not incorporating the SDGs into your business plan.

Be a first-mover in your industry and position yourself as a leader in sustainable development using the SDGs as your guiding compass. The UN sustainable development goals are a framework for everyone to follow. The more businesses, citizens, and governments onboard with these sustainable goals, the better the outcome is for our planet.

Learn how to create sustainable value as a business during a half-day workshop. We use the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to identify your organisation’s key environmental, economic, and social impact areas.

Learn more about our workshops.

Futureproofed Business can also assist your organisation in developing a sustainability strategy, based on a systemic approach and an intensive trajectory, that creates sustainable value for your organisation and the society at large.

Learn more about sustainability trajectories.

Stephanie is our resident expert in Sustainable Development Goals, with a background in international law and human rights. She supports our clients in their move to sustainable business strategies and a low carbon economy, and is an experienced keynote speaker. Stephanie is also an avid cyclist and loves to socialise with friends.

Subscribe to the Futureproofed Business Newsletter 📬

Subscribe for curated educational articles, climate action tips, stories, offers and inspiration from the Futureproofed Business team, delivered straight to your inbox — once a month.

Sustainability Strategy Companies Sustainable business SDGs
Subscribe for articles, tips, stories, and inspiration by our Futureproofed team, delivered straight to your inbox — once a month.
Sign up for our newsletter