What are the priorities for making our world more sustainable for everyone and everywhere, so as to build a better world within the next 15 years? The United Nations unveiled the Sustainable Development Goals, the 17 universal priorities for sustainable development, in September 2015. As a standard-setting Belgian sustainability network, The Shift aims to reflect this international framework within its local network, and so help achieve these goals in Belgium.
The purpose of this section is to provide you with an overview of the Sustainable Development Goals, a universal framework that consists of 17 topics, which are sustainable development priorities for the forthcoming 15 years. In other words, this is a compass for building a better world by 2030.
What are the Sustainable Development Goals?
In September 2015, the United Nations unveiled its development programme for the period up to 2030 (which entered into effect on 1 January 2016). This action plan for humanity, the planet, and prosperity, also aims to support peace throughout the world and to guarantee freedom for everyone by 2030. All of the United Nations’ member states (193) and their stakeholders are concerned, and will be required to work together via partnerships, in order to implement this action plan.
« The SDGs are a navigation system for reaching the future we desire: they serve as compass indicating our direction, and offer a map dur measuring progress along the route », Ernst Ligteringen, GRI.
From a practical point of view, this ambitious plan includes 17 sustainable development goals, together with 169 subtargets. It covers topics such as eradicating hunger and poverty throughout the world, achieving human rights and gender equality, combating damage to our planet, and achieving economic growth in harmony with nature, as well as the advent of peaceful, fair, and inclusive societies. The Plan’s authors based themselves on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Millennium Declaration and the declaration of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development, as well as on other universal documents that provide a framework for individual freedoms, in order to determine the plan’s content, and the topics addressed.
This universal framework is the result of a two-year consultation process involving a large number of stakeholders, and was approved by the United Nations’ 193 member states, with a view to extending the Millennium Goals (2000-2015), to achieving what those goals did not allow, i.e. definitively steering our society down a sustainable and resilient path. The magnitude of this new programme calls for a “revitalised global partnership that will ensure its implementation”.
The agenda includes the three conventional sustainable development and corporate social responsibility categories, i.e. People, Planet, and Profit. However, in the case of the SDGs, the profit category has been turned into prosperity, and two new categories have been added, namely Peace & Justice and Partnerships.
Each SDG covers a very broad topic, and goes well beyond its title. The SDGs are intended to be implemented together; they cannot be divided, and have many links to one another. It is impossible to end world hunger without addressing climate change or world peace. To illustrate this interdependence between the goals, here is an image that shows Goal 12 – Sustainable Production & Consumption, and its direct links with 14 other goals.
You will find a detailed overview of the 17 goals, together with the 169 targets in the document under. Each goal includes targets to be achieved by 2020, 2025 and 2030 (numbers 1.1, and 1.2, etc.). A certain number of resources must be implemented in order to achieve the goals. These resources are grouped within Goal 17, but also within each goal (letters 1.a, 1.b, and 1.c, etc.). These goals and targets will be monitored using a series of worldwide indicators for their overall achievement. Each country will be responsible for monitoring the progress of the SDGs on its territory, using national and regional indicators.
Why are they so important for us?
“They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.” Ban Ki-Moon
First, because this action programme is based on a specific principle, i.e. “no one left behind”. It therefore concerns every one of us, governments, companies, NGOs, civil society, and the general public, and invites us all to conduct an in-depth review of the way that we produce, consume, and live.
Unlike the Millennium Goals – which conveyed a message that so-called “developed” countries were expected to help developing countries to develop further – the SDGs are intended for all participants in society. They provide us with a fantastic opportunity for bringing the worlds of development and the private sector together under the same roof, using the same language, and working on a joint goal together.
Secondly this framework is adding new momentum to sustainable development via the concept of partnerships, which is fundamental at The Shift.
SDGs & Government
Belgium also has the next 15 years to implement these goals on its territory. A consortium of over 30 non-profit organisations recalls this fact in the publication entitled Pathways Towards Implementing the SDGs in Belgium : “the (Federal and Regional) Belgian Governments will be required to include these 17 goals not only in their external policies, in order to help developing countries achieve their goals, but also in their internal policies, in Belgium. The study also underlines the important role of not-for-profit organisations to help realise the goals.
We should not view the SDGs as an end in themselves. They are targeting the medium-term – the timeframe is 2030 – while even greater efforts will be required between now and 2050. These SDGs are not perfect either. They are result of a political negotiation process, and sometimes suffer from ambiguity, inconsistency, or a lack of ambition. However, achieving these goals would be a major step forward, while the fact that they are being offered to the entire world amounts to a very strong signal.
The German Bertelsmann Stiftung Foundation has prepared a study on the state of progress of the SDGs in wealthy countries (OECD), which ranks Belgium 8th out of 34. Starting from the premise that, due to the “inability to combat poverty, while consuming too many resources”, it states that wealthy countries can no longer serve as a model for developing countries in their current state. Accordingly, the Foundation concludes that “we are all developing countries in terms of sustainable development”.
There are huge differences between the countries that were studied, and we find Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland at the top of the rankings. Belgium achieves a high score in terms of combating inequality or gender equality, but falls to the bottom of the rankings in terms of its percentage of renewable energy, air quality, the use of its water resources, and soil quality.
Combining this research report with the work performed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network has enabled a worldwide ranking, the SDG Index, to be drawn up, which includes the results from 149 countries, and where Belgium ranks 12th.
« The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world's leaders and the people. » Ban Ki-Moon
SDG & Business
Given that any business activity that implies the use of resources or labour has a social and environmental impact, it is very clear that companies have a dominant role to play in terms of achieving the SDGs. The ambition of these goals calls into question the way that we live, consume, and produce. They also represent new standards that companies can use to design, measure, and report their contribution to sustainable development.
Making the SDGs a success is important for the private sector, for several reasons (Source: UN Global Compact):
- A larger and better educated workforce facilitates growth.
- Business thrives in conditions of political and economic stability: ensuring a viable environment for companies also involves the strategic management of social, environmental, and economic aspects, which are closely linked.
- Resilient societies handle natural disasters and the impact of climate change with less damage.
- We’ve heard it before, but it is still true: Business cannot succeed in societies that fail. The implementation of the SDGs provide significant assistance in terms of managing and minimising the social and environmental risks that companies face.
- However, the SDGs are also of interest to business from a quite different angle, i.e. as business opportunities all along the value chain.
A research report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that 71% of companies are already thinking about their commitment to the SDGs, but that only 13% of them believe that they have identified the tools required to measure this commitment. This is why The Shift is focusing on helping its members with this exercise. You will find more information regarding our members’ commitments on the “Our Members” page on our website.
The SDGs are not just another label or reference framework. They are a fantastic opportunity for creating a better world by 2030. They amount to a powerful tool for bringing economic, social, and environmental realities together within our society, which is in transition, along with the risks and opportunities for organisations within that society.
The success of this approach fundamentally depends on the ability of today’s leaders to develop a deep culture of sustainability within their organisation and their teams, regardless of whether that culture is at the level of a government, a company, an NGO, or even of a family. The transition cannot take place without a radical change in awareness, and in our way of living, consuming, and producing.
The Shift & the SDGs
The Shift encourages profound and tangible change within our society and stimulates the emergence of new sustainable business models via collaboration. To achieve this aim, The Shift uses the SDGs as a framework for its members to express their societal goals. Our aim in 2016 is to ensure that all of the pioneering organisations that are members of our network publicly express their societal goals within the framework of the SDGs. This will enable us to identify the issues that are most important within our network, as well as to group members by topic, in order to work on drawing up tangible plans to bring about this radical change.
We have set up the following initiatives and projects to achieve this aim :
- SDG Voices: with the Belgian Federal Institute for Sustainable Development (IFDD); The Shift has appointed eight organisations in order to promote the SDGs to a wide audience in Belgium. You will find further information about this project via this link.
- The Shift Cafés: a series of interactive workshops where we provide an in-depth overview of the SDGs. We can also organise a session at your organisation, in order to enable your employees to benefit.
- Our expertise: as the Belgian representatives for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and of the UN Global Compact, The Shift’s team benefits from unique expertise where the SDGs are concerned.
- Our multi-actor network and partnerships: we bring together pioneering organisations (companies, associations, academic institutions, NGOs, young change makers, etc.), who want to make the transition towards a more sustainable society. Draw inspiration from The Shift’s members: find out about their commitments to the SDGs via this link.
To go further
- The Federal Institute for Sustainbale Development (FIDO-IFDD) gathers all relevant information and actions about the Sustainable Development Goals on sdgs.be
- Report on implementing the SDGs in Wallonia by the Service public de Wallonie: En route vers 2030
- Find out about each goal in detail via the official United Nations’ website
- The library of the UN Global Compact contains interesting documents such as the SDGs and the sustainable development agenda. Click the following link to discover the UN Global Compact Library
- Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
- The Global Goals website: The #GlobalGoals are making the Sustainable Development Goals famous in order to end poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change. Discover them via globalgoals.org
For the private sector
- SDG Business Hub : a World Business Council for Sustainable Development platform aimed at sharing the private sector’s progress towards the SDGs
- SDG Compass: a handbook drawn up by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the GRI for large companies that wish to commit to the SDGs
- “Business & the SDGs: a Guide for Getting Ready”: a publication from the organisation Innove, which covers various pathways for implementing the SDGs at companies
- SDG Industry Matrix: these publications, which were issued by the UNGC and KPMG, showcase industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action relating to the SDGs
- 70 Entrepreneurial projects on SDGs: 70 business actions on the SDGs taken by companies in 19 European countries
Shall we get started?
“The SDGs are an excellent opportunity to create a new dynamism for sustainable development at both the national and the international level.” the Belgian Federal Council for Sustainable Development
Share your societal ambitions with us and become one of the Belgian pioneers of sustainability!