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SDGs vs Covid-19

  • Climate Emergency
  • Technology & innovation

How do the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals translate into actions for businesses, especially in the light of Covid-19?

“We were planning for 2020 to be a super year of activism around the sustainable development goals. That got short-circuited very, very early on,”

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do a great job of defining what’s crucial to a better and more sustainable future for our world – but how does that translate into actions for businesses, especially in the light of Covid-19? We asked Dawda Jobarteg, head of the United Nations SDG Strategy Hub.

The SDG Strategy Hub was established, in part, to mobilise people around the 17 SDGs, and the 169 targets included within them. Many of the goals, like no poverty and zero hunger, feel overarching. But when you dig deeper, you find goals with a clear challenge to businesses -– with names like ‘industry, innovation and infrastructure’, ‘responsible consumption and production’ and ‘decent work and economic growth’.

 

The plan for the strategy hub was to disseminate communications and materials and turn the lofty ideals of the goals into tangible targets that governments, businesses and individuals can act and deliver on. So what happens to those plans when a global pandemic erupts? “The world is now looking at how all 17 areas of the goals are impacted through the Covid-19 lens, from inequality to health to education to decent work to climate action – and all of those other things,” Jobarteh tells me.

 

As the world first adjusts to life amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and then rebuilds beyond it, Jobarteh says the SDGs provide a framework to support business to play its part. “The sustainable development goals are comprehensive. They’re the blueprint. There is no plan B, and it may be hard for businesses, small or large, to fully understand that. But that’s going to help move us forward into the world that we want and the world that we need.”

“People should do whatever’s within their control, their power, or their desire to do. Every small business or individual doesn’t need to do all 17 goals. Do the bits that you can do.”

The UN declared that 2020 would be the start of a 10-year strategy to mobilise the world to work towards the goals at greater speed and scale. “We were framing the Decade of Action around raised ambition, mobilisation and creating solutions – all of which are still very, very relevant to the Covid-19 response and the recovery response. Originally were looking at a healthy planet, inequality, and gender equity, all of which are exceedingly relevant right now.”

 

“Our role is to link that up in the recovery phase, to make sure that continues in the spirit and in the way in which it was intended. And that it gets implemented – that it’s not just this high-minded value that every single head of state and head of government signed up to in 2015,” he says.

 

Each of the SDG’s is designed to be a challenge to all of humanity – but for each business, some of them will feel more easily applicable or relevant than others. 

 

“From a business perspective, businesses want healthy customers and clients. They want better informed and educated customers and clients. They want access to markets and want strong institutions to be able to enable them to do what it is that they’re good at doing and they’re able to do, and bring their innovation and ingenuity to things.” Jobarteh tells me. 

 

“Business should raise its level of ambition to deliver on these things. Figure out and challenge yourself, challenge your staff – reduce the negative imprint and make it a positive imprint,” he tells me. 

 

“People should do whatever’s within their control, their power, or their desire to do. Every small business or individual doesn’t need to do all 17 goals. Do the bits that you can do.” 

 

At the start of 2020, UN Global Compact, in partnership with B Lab, launched the SDG Action Manager. It’s an online tool that helps businesses identify the SDGs that are most relevant to them, understand their impact and then measure improvements over time. 

 

The artwork accompanying this piece is by Nick van Wagenberg in response to the UN’s Open Brief to creators to educate, uplift, and inspire people all across the world through the global COVID pandemic crisis. Submissions to the open brief can be viewed at the UN Covid-19 Response Creative Content Hub.