Sustainable Development Goals - Are We Reducing Waste or Wasting Our Time?

To think that I first heard about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at a foreign exchange conference from institutional investors, really exemplifies the progress Sustainable Business is making in today’s society.

My recent visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York left me contemplating questions such as: where is the global economy currently sitting in comparison to historical statistics? What approach are the UN taking to ‘bridging the gap’ between the private and public sectors? Are companies really taking action to advance societal goals?


First, (for those who are not aware) the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been designed by the UN to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. There are 17 interconnecting individual goals that address the global challenges we face.

1.       No Poverty: 836 million people live in extreme poverty. What you can do: Donate what you don’t use.


2.       Zero Hunger: Over 1/3 of the world’s food is wasted. What you can do: Avoid throwing away food.


3.       Good Health and Well-Being: More than 5 million children still die before their fifth birthday each year. What you can do: Vaccinate your family to protect them and improve public health.


4.       Quality Education: 617 million youth worldwide lack basic mathematics and literacy skills. What you can do: Help children in your community to read.


5.       Gender Equality: In 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working; in 39 countries, daughters and sons do not have equal inheritance rights; and 49 countries lack laws protecting women from domestic violence. What you can do: Call out sexist behaviour and language.


6.       Clean Water and Sanitation: Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the world’s population. What you can do: Avoid wasting water.


7.       Affordable and Clean Energy: 13% of the global population still lacks access to modern electricity. 3 billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. What you can do: Use only energy efficient appliances and light bulbs.


8.       Decent Work and Economic Growth: 470 million jobs are needed globally for new entrants to the labour market between 2016 and 2030. What you can do: Buy from green companies that are equal opportunity employers.


9.       Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Basic infrastructure like roads, information and communication technologies, sanitation, electrical power and water remains scarce in many developing countries. What you can do: Think of innovative ways to repurpose old material.


10.   Reduce Inequalities: Inequalities based on income, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity, religion and opportunity continue to persist across the world, threatening long term social and economic development as it potentially breeds crime, disease and environmental degradation. What you can do: Raise your voice against discrimination.


11.   Sustainable Cities and Communities: Rapid urbanization is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment and public health. What you can do: Bike, walk or use public transportations to keep our cities air clean.


12.   Responsible Production and Consumption: Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050 the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles. What you can do: Recycle paper, plastic, glass and aluminium.


13.   Climate Action: Oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen. What you can do: Educate young people on climate change to put them on a sustainable path early on.


14.   Life Below Water: Coastal waters are deteriorating due to pollution and eutrophication. What you can do: Avoid plastic bags to keep the oceans safe and clean.


15.   Life on Land: 2.6 billion people depend directly on agriculture, but 52 per cent of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. What you can do: Plant a tree and help protect the environment.


16.   Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost some US $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year. What you can do: Use your right to elect the leaders in your country and local community.


17.   Partnerships for the Goals: A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. What you can do: Get the SDGs in Action app to learn about the Goals and ways to help achieve them.


Reading through this list, I am sure you are thinking something along the lines of – “seems ambitious” – and yes, it will not be easy.

However, it would surprise you how far we have already come.

One of my favourite books is Factfulness by Dr Hans Rosling. Dr Rosling researches and analyses all the statistics gathered by the UN and uncovers the current status of the global economy. He investigates areas such as poverty, increasing population, equality, child mortality rates (a significant indicator of an economy’s overall health) and much more. The most surprising part is, the book is very uplifting.

For example, the majority of the world live in middle-income countries. In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost halved. 80% of the world’s 1-year-old children today have been vaccinated against some disease. Over 80% of people in the world have some access to electricity. These facts merely scratch the surface of what he has uncovered with his insightful research.

After meeting with Abraham Joseph from the United Nations, he shared similar stories regarding progress in many countries. Australia does very well with environmental care and the Netherlands and Japan are doing well with disaster risk management. For one month every year the UN gather statistics from all over the world with ODA as its primary source.

As for Partnerships for the Goals and ‘bridging the gap’ between the private and public sectors, Abraham speaks regularly to the private and academic sectors giving practical advice in what they can do to contribute. He has been doing this since January 2016 all around the world.

An organisation has also been created called the UN Global Compact – “The world's largest corporate sustainability initiative”. The UN Global Compact serves to encourage companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles. There are 10 principles to adhere to for membership under subjects such as human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The organisation then has 32 portals to offer support to companies from various industries.

The structure and support are there for any companies and/or individual professionals wanting to make a difference. Here in Australia, we also have an organisation called Future Business Council (for businesses) and Future Business Generation (for individuals) who have created a supportive network/community that concentrates on 6 key focus areas:

1.       Australia: Global Future Business Leader – position Australia as global hub for future business innovation and to become the internationally preferred supplier of sustainable goods and services.

2.       Materials and Manufacturing – encourage the growth and competitiveness of companies that produce high quality, innovative and ethical goods.

3.       Transport, Energy and Infrastructure – enhance critical infrastructure and improve the supply chains that underpin all productivity and efficiency across the entire economy.

4.       Agriculture and Food – strengthen Australia’s natural advantage in agriculture and food production and ensure the resilience and long-term viability of the sector.

5.       Education, Science and Skills – focus on education as an asset for Australia that enhances quality of life, spurs innovation and creates the skills and knowledge we need for the future.

6.       Innovation, Business Models and Start-ups – support the growth of innovative business models in Australia and seek to foster start-up friendly business environment for entrepreneurs.

These focus areas encourage companies and individuals to act on advancing societal goals. With the thousands of members within the ever-expanding Future Business Council and Future Business Generation, it is no wonder that Australia is getting recognised globally for its environmental care. Their research, publications and events are continuously contributing to the UN SDGs.


In summary, we are making progress.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we are in the best state we have ever been in. So, why not try to make it even better?