In September 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals: seventeen ambitious, all-encompassing goals to transform our world by 2030, ending poverty, fighting injustice and inequality, and combating climate change. Progress on these goals is being marshalled by an initiative called the UN Global Compact which is engaging corporations and governments to make significant progress in meeting the Global Goals.
The Global Goals that most refer to the environment are:
#6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
#7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
#11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
#12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
#13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
#14. Conserve the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
#15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
The UN Global Compact encourages businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies and to report on their implementation while taking action at the highest levels. Local networks of the Global Compact also support action on the Global Goals, such as seminars on how private-sector organizations can align their business practices with the Global Goals. Experience has shown that when the private sector drives the effort, governments will follow.
Even with the enthusiasm and support for the Global Goals in the wake of December’s Paris Agreement on Climate Change (COP21), progress is slow. According to a recent survey by Ethical Corporation, a publication focused on issues of corporate responsibility and sustainability, just 46 percent of corporations say that they are looking to engage on the Global Goals. The relatively low level of engagement is likely due to a combination of factors such as the current economic environment, or capacity and financial constraints. Perhaps it is simply—and most easily remedied—a lack of understanding as to how a company can engage so as to bring value to the organization and its shareholders. No matter the reason, there are simple steps companies can take, beginning with an understanding of how what they’re already doing is aligned with the targets for each goal.
Climate action is only one of the Global Goals, but they are all inextricably connected to each other. Our ability as a global society to make progress on climate action will determine progress on the each of the rest of the Goals as well.
Kate Rebernak is the founder and CEO of Framework, LLC, an advisory and analytics firm that helps companies create value through sustainable business practices. Framework serves as strategic counsel to the Global Compact Network USA.