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What are the SDGs and why should I care?

by Indi Tansey, Apr 15, 2020

If I told you that 3 letters have the power to save life on earth, what would you guess them to be?

While you probably need another acronym in your life, like a hole in the ozone layer, I urge you to consider making space for this one. The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are 17 global goals adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. They are a universal call to action, to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity, and here's the kicker, we need to do it by 2030. 
You may have seen the iconic grid of coloured boxes and symbols. When I attended the 2020 World Economic Forum there was an entire event space and media centre dedicated purely towards the SDGs. It was a common conversation topic, with CEOs of big companies talking about their progress and impact. I was confused why it wasn't part of the general public discussion in Australia. 
LIVE from the SDG Media Zone at the World Economic Forum in Davos: Listening to business, government and UN leaders speak about stepping up ambitions to achieve the #GlobalGoals by 2030.

Why should I care about the SDGs?

I will spare you the official line, about setting humanity on a trajectory towards sustainable development and level with you. If we don't dramatically change the way we live our lives and run our businesses, life on earth is going to get increasingly challenging. 

Imagine you are an action hero, like Indiana Jones and the door to the vault is closing, fast. In the movie, you sprint to the doorway, dive and slide to safety as it smashes closed behind you.  We too, are facing such a moment in time, our climate is heating up, our ecosystems are being destroyed and the 1.5 degree safe zone is being tested. 2030 is fast approaching and our window of opportunity to act is closing. 

So, how do we all agree on and prioritise what needs to happen and then coordinate and measure our efforts on a global scale? Spoiler alert. It starts with an S and ends with a G. The SDGs have taken on a life of their own, giving focus to how we measure our success towards solving the world's problems. Each goal has sub goals, 169 in total and the idea is to measure as many as are applicable to you. 

Why should I take action?

The hardest part of my trip was admitting that if I wasn't part of the solution, then I was contributing to the problem. I consider myself a tax-paying, recycling, contributing member of society. But without realising, I have given my power away to our leaders, trusting that they will listen to and act on advice of the experts. The first step for me was accepting responsibility and embracing this ambitious global action plan. But where to begin?

How do I get started with the SDGs?

We all love a tool or a framework to make these things simpler. The UN Global Compact + B Lab came together and combined their assets and networks with the goal of helping businesses to take action on SDGs until 2030. This has resulted in a fantastic starting-point platform called The SDG Action Manager.

What is the SDG Action Manager?

  • Understand and share your impact - which SDGs are you measuring against?
  • Set goals and actions and track improvement  
  • Collaborate across company with a dashboard, very visual
  • Coming soon: Benchmarking and aggregating
They had an interview with a Melbourne coffee business owner called Steve Joy and when asked who should be the one in a company to use the SDG Action Manager he replied,"You don't need a job title for it, you just need to be passionate and want to make change."

What is the world doing about it?

If you are on social media, I recommend following the #SDGs hashtag so you can start tuning into conversations happening online.
  • SDGs in Action is an app that details each of the 17 goals, including targets, explanatory videos, key facts and figures, and suggestions on how you can take action and share your own intiatives.
  • SheEO is a global community of women working on the worlds to-do list (via the SDGs) and radically transforming how we finance, support, and celebrate female innovators. Check out their podcast here
  • Startmate startup accelerator has a climate cohort who are solely focused on SDG 13, climate action business ideas.
  • Biome, a popular Australian eco-friendly store supports one SDG each month with a simple action that you can adopt as part of their Peace and Prosperity initiative.
I interviewed Tiah Goldstein, founder of Interwoven Impact Tech Accelerator, to get her passionate perspective on the SDGs, how to make them work for your company and how they are coming to life in events like EarthTech Challenge held on Richard Branson's Makepeace Island in Noosa last month. The winner, Safewheel provides three-wheel mini ambulances that can operate on the narrowest village roads in Bangladesh - a place where traditional ambulances cannot traverse.

Tiah's suggestions for how to get started include:
  1. Look at the SDGs and identify where your passions and values as an organisation align
  2. Do an internal audit to identify opportunities for how your company can make a difference 
  3. Do an external audit of your supply chain and partners and identity places where you can expand/improve your impact
It's well documented that purpose-led organisations are better financial performers than other organisations and by creating value for others, we create value for ourselves and for our shareholders and ultimately, the big ball of gas that we call home. 

The SDGs help a company define its purpose, in a way that is relevant and inspiring to stakeholders, employees and customers. That purpose can become the foundation for strategic, long term positive change and increased shareholder value for the long game.

The purpose of this article is not to get on a high horse and tell you what you should do, it's about sharing a transformative experience that I've had, and what I plan to do next. If this inspires just one person to start, continue or rethink their journey, then I'm doing my bit. 
Author's note: I am writing this article not as an expert, but as a passionate change-maker who is exploring the collision point of purpose and technology. If you'd like to join me on this learning journey, you can register for my monthly newsletter at www.codebots.org