The UN Sustainable Development Goals

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"Business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals and communicate transparently about the results."
-Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General

In 2015, all 193 United Nations member states and world leaders agreed on an agenda to transform our world by 2030. Called the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”, the aim of the agenda is to “shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path”. At the heart of this universal, integrated and transformative Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As well,  

The sustainable development goals defined the global priorities for development towards a sustainable society. The covers social and economic issues like poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, education, global warming, environment, and social justice. 
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations for 2030 and seek to mobilize global efforts around a common set of goals and targets. The SDGs call for worldwide action among governments, business and civil society to end poverty and create a life of dignity and opportunity for all, within the boundaries of the planet. Unlike their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs explicitly call on all businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solve sustainable development challenges. The SDGs have been agreed by all governments, yet their success relies heavily on action and collaboration by all actors. The SDGs present an opportunity for business-led solutions and technologies to be developed and implemented to address the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges. As the SDGs form the global agenda for the development of our societies, they will allow leading companies to demonstrate how their business helps to advance sustainable development, both by minimizing negative impacts and maximizing positive impacts on people and the planet

The 17 SDGs in a nutshell

Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 7 Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 9 Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Goal 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Goal 15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Goal 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Business can be a force for positive change in the world and how we can all contribute to the grand challenges of our time. 

We live in an ever changing and complex world facing multiple challenges. 

Millions live in poverty without access to basic necessities such as food, healthcare, clean water or electricity. 

On top of this, environmental challenges such as the loss of biodiversity, rising sea levels and climate change threaten life on our planet. 

Right now, these challenges might seem overwhelming and too complicated to solve. 

But business can make a positive impact and most importantly, what you can do to contribute. 

So where should we begin? 

Luckily, all 193 United Nations member states made a good start in 2015. Together, they agreed on an agenda to transform our world by 2030 and introduce the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, also commonly referred to as the SDGs

At the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, the world leaders adopted a new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which is “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” designed to “shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path”. At the heart of this universal, integrated and transformative Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 

The new SDGs framework contains several bold objectives to be achieved by the year 2030, including the end of poverty (SDG 1), and hunger (SDG 2), good health and well-being for all (SDG 3), universal secondary education (SDG 4), access to affordable, sustainable and modern energy (SDG 7), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), actions to combat climate change (SDG 13), protecting and promoting sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine (SDG 14) and of the terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15) [2]. The SDGs, otherwise known as the Global Goals, are integrated (and indivisible) and create balance between the three facets (economic, social, and environmental) of sustainable development. They are unique in that they call for action by the whole world (developed and developing countries alike) and their constituents making them bound to perform their level best to attain a considerable reduction of inequalities. Acknowledging that ending poverty is closely related to strategies that create economic growth and address a range of social and environmental needs, the Goals comprise opportunities for all stakeholders (national governments, transnational companies, and civil society) to contribute to a more sustainable world. The 2030 Agenda also calls for a deeper participation and engagement of the private sector and partnerships to support governments to harness all the tools necessary to implement and deliver the required changes.

The SDGs constitute a positive change agenda. The SDGs acknowledge that countries around the world face universal challenges that 

require the investment of government, citizens, and companies. They provide a blueprint for peace and prosperity, for people and our planet. They are also a call to action for everyone, that includes business, governments, citizens, and includes you. 

But how can you be a force for positive change in the world? 

And what is the role of business in the transition to a more sustainable world? 

These are the questions we'll help you answer for yourself. 


Categorizing all 17 SDGs and understanding how they are interconnected can be mind-boggling, which is why the clever old Stockholm Resilient Center developed a system hierarchy for the SDGs, also known as the wedding cake model.

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The United Nations also formulated five basic principles that fit into all SDGs, the five Ps. 

There are four general Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity and Peace. These principles provide good benchmarks for measuring progress in all SDGs. But there is also one process-oriented principle, partnering. 

Partnering is a means, but perhaps also a goal in itself to enable implementation of corporate strategies at a more sophisticated levels of intervention. More sophisticated business strategies do not only aim at, avoid doing harm, such as limit pollution, prevent human rights violations, but in particular at doing good, like solving poverty, creating access to health, creating access to education and finance. In short, actively addressing all SDGs. 

In a world full of complex problems, nobody can effectively achieve good alone. Embracing the SDGs as most of the corporate leaders in the world are inclined to do, is a matter of smart business and leadership. It actually provides tremendous growth opportunities. 

The SDGs are estimated to provide a $12 trillion growth mark per year, as long as companies are able to organize this together with other stakeholders. It is actually a matter of smart organizing. 

Covering a wide spectrum of sustainable development topics relevant to companies – such as poverty, health, education, climate change and environmental degradation – the SDGs can help to connect business strategies with global priorities. Companies can use the SDGs as an overarching framework to shape, steer, communicate and report their strategies, goals and activities, allowing them to capitalize on a range of benefits such as:

Identifying future business opportunities

The SDGs aim to redirect global public and private investment flows towards the challenges they represent. In doing so they define growing markets for companies that can deliver innovative solutions and transformative change.

Enhancing the value of corporate sustainability

Whilst the business case for corporate sustainability is already well established, the SDGs may for example strengthen the economic incentives for companies to use resources more efficiently, or to switch to more sustainable alternatives, as externalities become increasingly internalized.

Strengthening stakeholder relations and keeping the pace with policy developments

The SDGs reflect stakeholder expectations as well as future policy direction at the international, national and regional levels. Companies that align their priorities with the SDGs can strengthen engagement of customers, employees and other stakeholders, and those that don’t will be exposed to growing legal and reputational risks.

Stabilizing societies and markets

Business cannot succeed in societies that fail. Investing in the achievement of the SDGs supports pillars of business success, including the existence of rules-based markets, transparent financial systems, and non-corrupt and well-governed institutions.

Using a common language and shared purpose

The SDGs define a common framework of action and language that will help companies communicate more consistently and effectively with stakeholders about their impact and performance. The goals will help bring together synergistic partners to address the world’s most urgent societal challenges.