“On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at a historic UN Summit — officially came into force. Over the next fifteen years, with these new Goals that universally apply to all, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”
Hunger, disease, poverty, inequality, and climate change are real problems that affect millions of people every day. Left unchecked, they impact every single one of us.
Yet, as easy as these issues are to identify, actually solving them is not so easy. It requires a global effort, cooperation, and an understanding that everyone can play a part in moving us forward.
The 17 SDGs (sometimes called ‘The Global Goals’) is a collection of independent but interconnected goals carefully designed to give all of us on our planet a better future, with hundreds of targets and measurement indicators geared toward a date of 2030. The goals were created with businesses in mind, providing a path – what some people refer to as a “Pathway for Humanity” — for any business to harness their power by directing their efforts toward specific global objectives.
The goals themselves to be simple and direct, but powerful, ranging from ending poverty to building sustainable cities. Any individual can find something on the diverse list of Sustainable Development Goals to work toward. Small and medium-sized businesses, however, are uniquely positioned to make significant impacts on the SDG targets.
The power of small businesses
Businesses are unique institutions that connect industries and communities in dynamic ways. Smaller businesses are more agile and flexible than governments and large corporations. They’re closer to the “ground”, often reflecting the values of their communities while generating both revenue and opportunities that can be used for good.
This interplay between business and society is so substantial that the SDGs were created with businesses in mind. According to a 2018 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), small and medium-sized businesses are collectively responsible for the vast majority of the world’s private economic activity. When businesses align their passions and inspirations with those of their employees, their customers, their partners, and their communities, there’s little they can’t accomplish.
How Businesses of any size can make it a reality
In a competitive world where many businesses struggle to survive, there seems to be little capital or effort to spare for anything other than the operations of the business itself. This makes it easy for even the most generous of entrepreneurs to say that “one day”, perhaps when their enterprise has grown, they can start using their success to do good in the world.
But businesses need to learn quickly that they don’t have to wait. From adopting simple changes in their day-to-day operation to giving back small amounts to a high-impact charity that aligns with one of the goals, every business, big or small can start right now.
Here are 11 ways we all can support our favorite SDG(s) through energizing and inspiring activities. These flexible activities can be a part of our lifestyles, our business practices, or our projects.
1. Provide a Healthy Workplace
Most people spend about one-third of their adult lives in a workplace environment.
It is essential to ensure that people have a workplace conducive to maintaining good health. Businesses are thus the key drivers for SDG #3 – Good Health and Well-being and SDG#8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth. Emphasize safe practices in the workplace through frequent training and refreshers. Implement health and fitness programs for your team. Also, consider carefully selecting your suppliers and other B2B partners based on how they regard the health of their own employees.
2. Sign the W.A.S.H. pledge
Image Source: W.A.S.H Pledge
Businesses can be some of the biggest offenders in the wastage of water, so when they take the lead in water conservation, they can make a huge impact on awareness in their communities.
Support SDG #6 – Clean Water and Sanitation by committing your business to a WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) pledge to “[implement] access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene at the workplace”. This will not only help keep your community clean but set a standard and expectation for others to follow – including your competitors!
And if you could, go one step further and ensure the same thing happens in a community in remote areas of the world too. Discover some of the water and sanitation projects here.
3. Review your supply chain and implement sustainable practices
Businesses are often the endpoint in a long supply chain that begins with basic materials and supplies taken from the very land on which we live.
Review your supply chain from top to bottom to make sure that all of the stages uphold human and labor rights, promote and adopt sustainable environmental practices and work against corruption in all its forms. If you’re unsure how to start, check out this guide from the UN.
4. Invest in renewable energy
More and more people are packing into urban areas each year. The sustainability of cities is vital to the future of humanity, but they are eating up our consumable natural resources. Being big consumers of energy, businesses can help by taking the lead on SDG #11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. Invest in renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and biofuel. By joining initiatives such as the UN Global Compact, you can be one of the businesses to lead the charge toward a more sustainable future.
5. Encourage ‘reduce, reuse, RECYCLE’
The usage of single-use plastic bags, plastic bottles, and other containers puts great pressure on our Earth.
Do you have a business that provides plastic bags for customers? Start switching to polypropylene bags (green reusable bags) if you have not already. Then, encourage your customers to reuse those bags. (Fun fact: these bags should be reused 35 times before being used as a bin liner or discarded to minimize their impact on the environment). You could even implement a reward system for customers who brought their own bags.
Another change you can adopt is to have a water fountain or cooler instead of a vending machine that distributes plastic drink bottles in office. Remember, every small change makes a huge impact in the long run.
6. Support education of the future generation – locally or globally
Education is the pathway out of poverty and the foundation for a better future. There is no dispute on that.
Sponsor local school scholarships or give to causes that build schools, supply books and train teachers in remote areas of the world. By helping remove some of the barriers to education, you’re not just enriching their individual lives and leveling the playing field – you’re also adding talent to the workforce. Who knows? You could be helping to educate a future employee!
7. The $2-a-day challenge
Could you survive on $2 a day?
It’s an interesting hypothetical for some, but a cold reality for too many others. Sometimes it takes putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to catalyze our empathy and energize us to do good. In support of SDG #1 – No Poverty, try living on just $2 by having “$2 days”. Encourage your employees, partners, clients, even your friends and family to do the same. Can you give up the things that you love by living this way? What trade-offs do you have to make? Knowing that millions live on this much or less is an eye-opener and a potent motivator.
8. Give paid volunteer days
We can all agree that nobody should go hungry in such an affluent world, but our own communities are where we can actually do something about it.
SDG #2 – Zero Hunger shows us a pathway to change the world by feeding our needy neighbors. Businesses can make a big impact by providing paid days off for employees to volunteer in hunger-related activities. Soup kitchens, food banks, and home food delivery programs for the needy and elderly are always in need of eager volunteers. There’s typically a greater need during the holiday season.
9. Reward responsible behaviors
“Employee of the Month” recognitions are typically reserved for workers with the most sales or best productivity – the ones bringing the most money for the company. But what if employees were recognized for moving the company toward better environmental practices?
To support SDG #12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, consider offering bonuses or award luncheons for your more environmentally conscious team members – especially those who move your business closer to more responsible practices.
10. Take it to the next level through partnerships with other businesses
SDG #17 – Partnerships For The Goals encourages businesses to become part of partnerships for responsible action in pursuit of any and all of the global goals.
By combining their enthusiasm for certain goals, partnerships become greater than the sum of their parts. You don’t have to stop at implementing sustainable programs at your workplace. Participate in changemaker events like sustainability education programs or retreats that let you see the effects of change. Network with like-minded business leaders and see what more you can do! Check out the upcoming B1G1 Global Conference where B1G1 Members – a community of like-minded businesses come together to discover new pathways to create a better future together.
11. Choose to give to causes that you care about the most
When it comes to giving, we always recommend starting with causes that are close to your heart, be it education, environment, health or human rights. In this case, simply start with the SDG that you feel most strongly about and give towards causes that support it.
On a personal note… here’s how I choose to give back.
Growing up, I never had to worry about how I would get to school, or whether there would be enough books to go around. Other than the occasional treat of a Texas tornado, I never had to worry about whether I would have a school building to go to in the morning.
I also know that there are millions of bright, curious minds in the world without such assurances. Which young Cambodian girl would be the one that cures cancer, or which Kenyan child would become the next renowned poet if only he or she had the opportunity and supplies to help his or her young mind reach its potential?
I don’t know the answer, so for every B1G1 blog post I write, I give 180 days of access to reading materials to girls in Cambodia – to give them the tools to make their own impacts on the world.
It’s a small, humble contribution to the very big cause of SDG #4 – Quality Education, but now it makes every paragraph, every sentence, every word, just a little more meaningful.
Businesses regardless of their size have the power to forge change – to harness the power of innovation and entrepreneurship, involving their employees, clients, partners, and communities, to help us strive towards the goals.
As we move forward, we can all continue in our resolutions for the new millennium – ensuring that no one is left behind in a safer, happier future.
What is your way of contributing to the goals? Do share your thoughts in the comments too, because there is no such thing as too many ideas when it comes to making the world a better place.
Many businesses are also incorporating the SDGs in their daily activities. Discover how you can incorporate SDGs into your daily business activities with B1G1 here.