The four things you need to know to get started with the Sustainable Development Goals

There’s a lot of information available on the Sustainable Development Goals. If you’re new to them, getting the basics right will make life a lot easier. Emily Auckland, UKSSD Network Director, shares four things you need to know.

1. The Five P’s

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their associated targets and indicators are part of Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which global leaders committed to in September 2015.

The preamble sets out the purpose of Agenda 2030 as a ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’, reflecting the three pillars of sustainable development. Agenda 2030 also includes the need to strengthen peace, and critically, the need to work in partnership to achieve the Goals.

The five P’s run across the SDGs and if you’re struggling to understand the Goals or targets in relation to your own work, it might be useful to start by thinking about what people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships mean to you.

2. Leaving no one behind

We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty’

Inherent in Agenda 2030 is the global understanding that poverty is one of the greatest challenges and failures of our time. The commitments made by governments recognise that the people who are the furthest behind – or those who are the most disadvantaged or the poorest – should be the focus of our efforts first.

Many of the targets are written with a focus on developing countries. But all countries are required to act in a way that addresses the needs of the people left behind due to poverty or inequality.

Understanding your organisation’s impact on staff, customers, or other stakeholders who are the furthest behind within society can be a good way to explore the Goals. This doesn’t need to be overcomplicated: Gender Pay Gap reporting or investing in the communities they operate in are ways that organisations are already addressing the problem – we just need to do more.

3. Make them local

While Agenda 2030 is global in ambition, the SDGs are delivered nationally, and individual governments shoulder the responsibility for leading this process through national implementation plans and programmes. 

If you’re a global business or NGO this can make things a bit complicated. You may have taken time to develop a global approach, only to find that variations in the plans and policies between the countries where you operate disrupt your local operations. It also means there will be different challenges to navigate and different opportunities to benefit from. Understanding the local context is important.

Measuring up, UKSSD’s review of how the UK is performing on the SDGs, shows that localising the Goals is essential within, as well as between, nations. The evidence shows the vast differences on the SDGs in performance between cities, towns, coastal areas, regions, and the four nations of the UK. If we’re to make sure no one is left behind, and to deliver the Goals across the country, we will need to understand our relationships at the local level too.

4. How to get started in your organisation

Firstly, the SDGs are not just about action in your organisation, they’re about action by everyone, everywhere. Some of the Goals and targets can be achieved by individual organisations, people or communities changing the way they do things. But all 17 Goals and 169 targets won’t be achieved unless we transform the way we live and work at scale. This will require collective action.

It sounds impossible but if you consider the response of government, the public and business in the UK to single-use plastics, we know it can be done. We can create massive changes at scale if we act in the right way, together.  

So to start with, you should understand the relationship you have to all of the Goals and targets – map them against your people, your operations and your supply chain, as suggested in the SDG Compass.   

Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to see where you can make changes yourself, and where you need to work collectively – the issues are too big for you to tackle alone. We’d encourage you to focus there.