What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

January 20, 2023
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From reducing carbon emissions to promoting equality, the SDGs offer a framework for businesses to make a positive impact on the world.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals serve as guidelines for every country’s development and are supposed to stimulate actions in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet.

This involves targeting the most vulnerable, increasing basic resources and services, and supporting communities.

The idea is to lead the world to a more prosperous, healthy, inclusive, and sustainable society, where everyone can have enough of what they need, living within our planetary boundaries.

What is the objective of the Sustainable Development Goals?

They are usually graphically represented this way: 

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and economies
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, justice and strong institutions
  17. Partnership for the goals

The 17 SDGs goals are operated within various initiatives and each initiative fits several SDGs.

For example: 

  • Digital skills for decent jobs for youth fit into Goals 4 (Quality education), 5 (Gender equality), 8 (Decent work and economic growth) and 17 (Partnership for the goals)
  • Reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry by promoting circularity of fabrics fits into Goals 6 (Clean water and sanitation), 8 (Decent work and economic growth), 12 (Responsible consumption and production) and 13 (Climate Action)
  • Promoting cycling as an everyday mode of transport for everyone anywhere anytime fits into Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16  

Is there recognition for the SDGs?

The SDGs are part of a framework to help all stakeholders implement actions that meet some or all of the goals.

There are no checking, certifications, or recognitions of the actions planned and the results achieved by the Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG).
It is only a declarative statement. 

The only way to verify is to trust the information and results communicated by governments, organizations, and companies.

Usually, they mentioned in their communication the Sustainable Development Goals they are working towards and which actions they are implementing to achieve their targets within the 2030 deadline.

Who are SDGs for and by whom are they used?

The Preamble of the Agenda 2021 says “a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.”

This highlights the ambition of the SDGs to be used by everyone, from governments to civil society to the private sector, as guidelines to define global priorities and aspirations for 2030.

This is a major difference with the MDGs, detailed in the above section, which were mainly used by governments. The UN wants everyone to take responsibility for society's Sustainable Development and act toward the universal goal of ending poverty in all forms.

In order to make the 2030 Agenda a reality, broad ownership of the SDGs must translate into a strong commitment by all stakeholders to implement the global goals. Stakeholders must know what are the SDGs and how to do their part.

Below are a few examples of organizations using SDGs:

  • The UK government is committed to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals and has fully embedded each goal in the planned activity of each Government department. For each goal, they are detailing on their website the list of commitments and actions planned. 
  • The international company Lego engages on SDG 4: Ensuring quality education and lifelong learning for all. Inspiring and engaging children in sustainability is a big part of their mission. In 2018, they held a series of sustainability-focused events worldwide and launched a LEGO wind turbine model containing an instruction booklet with interesting facts about climate change and wind energy.
  • The television channel Discovery Channel established a meaningful partnership with the charity organization Oceana for the past few years to protect sharks from the cruel fin trade that affects up to 73 million sharks per year. Their efforts aim to tackle SDG14: Life Below Water.

Benefits of using SDGs for for-profit companies

The use and implementation of the SDGs is part of a company’s CSR strategy. It can help define objectives and give a broader and wider meaning of CSR actions.

It positions the company as an actor making its part in the ambitious goal of Agenda 2030, the universal project to end poverty in all forms, protect the planet and achieve worldwide peace and prosperity for people, now and into the future.

The benefits of using SDGs are those of having an ambitious sustainability strategy:

  • Identify future business opportunities
  • Anticipate coming regulations
  • Gain new customers and retain existing customers
  • Attract talents and reduce turnover
  • Strengthen the company’s reputation
  • Engage stakeholders
  • Answer requirements asked by investors, suppliers, and partners

At a more global level, using SDGs allow companies to have a common language to communicate about their impact and performance.

It also participates in stabilizing societies and markets, as businesses cannot succeed in societies that fail.

How to use SDGs as a company?

Timeline and costs

Using the SGDs is free because this approach only provides guidelines to work towards, with the aim to help define strategies and action plans.

The timeline and the cost are defined by the companies themselves. However, it makes sense that the deadlines are set to be 2030 or sooner, as part of the 2030 Agenda and in alignment with SDGs sub-targets.

To help meet this fast-approaching 2030 deadline, and based on their resources, time and budget constraints, companies can decide to align their strategy on one or several SDGs.

How to process with the SDGs?

​​The steps for implementing the SDGs into the companies' strategy and business may vary depending on their choices and constraints.

However, the steps below provide an idea of what the implementation process can look like:

1/ Familiarize with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Companies’ decision-makers must familiarize themselves with the SDGs philosophy, approach and concept and understand the opportunities and responsibilities they represent for their business.

They can start with:

  • Browsing the list of existing projects on the dedicated online partnership platform of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs
  • Reading the SDG Good practices publication published in 2020: a compilation of success stories and lessons learned in SDG implementation

It is also very important to make sure teams know and understand Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

There are several resources and videos that explain them on the SDGs website.

The top management teams can organize dedicated moments to raise awareness and train the teams to the SDGs, their purpose and why the company is going to use them.

2/ Choose one or several SDGs

That resonate with the companies’ vision and purpose and are linked to their sector and mission. Choosing collectively with all the employees will engage them in the process.

3/ Set targets

Understand whether companies’ activity has a positive or negative impact on the chosen

SDGs and set targets for each SDGs (KPIs).

4/ Apply the lens of the SDGs to the strategy and decision-making processes

Use the SDGs to define a longer-term sustainable investment vision and integrate them into the core business, governance and organizational strategy.

5/ Build the SDGs into an operational action plan

Set up timelines, resources and budgets to implement dedicated actions and projects.

6/ Engage the stakeholders and the ecosystem with the SDGs

Following the SDGs strategy commitment, actions and projects can be implemented internally and on a wider approach, with partners and stakeholders. Partnering with other organizations will:

  • allow companies to go further in their commitments and be more ambitious in their SDGs’ implementation strategy
  • amplify the impact and results of the targets set

7/ Report on the SDGs as part of the integrated reporting

Communicating on companies’ progress against the SDGs allows them to be recognized for their commitment, to meet the needs of their stakeholders and to set an example for their ecosystem.

The Integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into Corporate Reporting guide outlines a three-step process to embed the SDGs into existing business and reporting processes.

It helps companies to better report their impact on the SDGs and address the information needs of relevant stakeholders.

To go into more detail, two guides have been developed to help companies with the SDGs implementation:

  • SDG Compass, The guide for business action on the SDGs, developed by GRI, UN Global Compact
  • SDG Sustainability toolkit, by CGMA

External help

Start implementing the Sustainable Development Goals today! You can begin with little steps, and scale up. 

And for that, Apiday can help! 

With the support of our experts, you can benefit from a custom strategy that fits your company's unique goals and needs. We’ll identify where your energy should be dedicated, with a step-by-step roadmap and custom suggestions.

All you need to do is upload the right information, we’ll automatize the rest: building actionable data, beautiful charts, and reports from all your systems in one place.

So you'll be able to engage and share the right information with all your stakeholders!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?
Why is SDG 17 so important?
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