An Overview of the United Nation's SDGs

climate government must-know sustainable business Sep 20, 2022

When you and your family, friends, or colleagues talk about sustainability, what topics come up? How do you guys define sustainability? And most importantly - how do you think a sustainable future can be attained? Or, can it?

More often than not, sustainability seems like an abstract concept with no real form or definition. Any time I tell someone I work in sustainability, I always get the same dreaded follow-up question: 

“What does sustainability mean to you?”

While a fair question, I always get nervous trying to think of a thoughtful, comprehensive answer. But more often than not, I direct people to the UN SDGs. If you’re not familiar with them, no sweat. We’ll go over that in this blog, but if you’d rather watch a YouTube video on the SDGs, check out Derek’s video here.

So what exactly are the SDGs and what do they have to do with sustainability? 


Before the SDGs came into existence, the UN, formed in 1945, had been trying to address sustainability on a global scale for years. 

In 1987, Our Common Future was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development, which was headed by Norway’s former Prime Minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. This report defined sustainability and sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While this gave us a good definition of what sustainability should look like, we still need to know how to make this a reality. But, we really do like the future generations part :)

Fast forward to 2000 and we see the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals. With 8 goals, member states who participated were challenged to meet these goals by 2015. This was the first framework we saw to help countries create a more equitable and sustainable future for all of their citizens. However, it became apparent that these 8 goals weren’t enough - there were still problems facing people and the planet and we had to create a better system. 

Then, to improve upon these and to prepare for a future in 2030, in 2015, we saw the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals. These new, expansive goals were designed to build on the work the MDGs had done and take it even further. So, why should SDGs be our main framework for addressing sustainability? How are they unique to previous iterations?

Why the SDGs

With 17 goals and 169 targets underneath them, the SDGs give us a well-developed guide to achieving a sustainable future. Ranging from social issues, to conservation, and climate action, the SDGs cover (almost) all the bases, and perhaps most importantly, put poverty and hunger as essentially priority topics to address (basic needs, right!?). 

Due in 2030, the SDGs allowed us the same 15-year period as the MDGs, but how successful have we been in moving the needle over the years? You can see each year’s progress report on the official site, but I recommend reading the 2022 progress report. We only have 8 years left to reach the goals, so time is of the essence. While countries should be doing their best to implement the SDGs, we should also be relying on brands to adopt them as well.

There are a number of brands that have adopted the SDGs into their business practices, including:

Image credit: Boardriders

The SDGs can help guide brands on how to strategically tackle sustainability while providing transparency into their approach for anyone to see. Do any of your favorite brands support and implement the SDGs? 

How You Can Participate

The SDGs are not reserved for countries and brands - you can participate in the goals too! Although it would be hard to effect change on a global scale, you can implement the SDGs within your own community.

One way to start is select any one of the 17 goals and brainstorm how your community could benefit from it. This could take the form of volunteering, fundraising, or advocating for whatever the given issue may be. Plus, you can challenge your family, friends, and coworkers to do the same thing in their communities and track their progress. Community building and sustainability, all rolled into one!

If you can’t participate in the goals, we highly recommend that you read everything you can about the SDGs. Stay up to date with the news, watch different videos on the goals, support brands who are committed to the goals, and share this information with others. 

Whichever way works best for you (maybe even both!), you’ll be contributing to building a more sustainable future for everyone and everything on the planet. 

What do you think of the SDGs? Do any of them stand out to you? Share your thoughts with us in our LinkedIn Group - we hope to see you there.

See you Thursday!


#keeplearning #SDGs #sustainablebusiness

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