SDG Insights - mastering the Sustainable Development Goals | SDSN Northern Europe
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The Agenda 2030 with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is our current best answer to “what is a sustainable development?”.

SDG Insights - mastering the Sustainable Development Goals

The Agenda 2030 and the SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Do you think it's difficult to know how to work with sustainable development? This is what you need to know to get from knowledge to action and master the SDGs.

Agenda 2030 and the SDGs

Foto: Rebecka Hallén Jorquera

In 2015, the UN member states agreed upon a global agenda for sustainable development – the UN Agenda 2030. At heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pinpointing sustainability challenges as we know and understand them today. That is no small feat – the agenda sets out to eradicate poverty and ensure good health and well-being for all while keeping negative externalities within the planetary boundaries. Ambitious, no doubt, but also valuable beyond policy implementation. 

The agenda with the 17 SDGs is our current best answer to “what is a sustainable development?”, providing a common and distinct set of dimensions to sustainability with meaning and implications for everyone. And that is also the cornerstone if the agenda is to succeed. 

Actors across societies need to take on the challenges, stay focused on achieving the goals and work together in doing so. 

Our approach to the SDGs

We see the SDGs as the best framework there is to describe the complexity of sustainable development. We need to cherish and uphold the SDGs.

Keep using the SDGs as your compass

In an era of increasing focus on sustainability, organisations are faced with the choice of either adopting the globally recognised SDGs as their framework or creating their own standalone sustainability goals. While creating custom goals may seem tempting, there are compelling reasons to advocate for the continued use of the SDGs.

1) Agenda 2030 and the SDGs is a globally recognised framework

First and foremost, the SDGs provide a comprehensive and universally accepted framework that addresses a wide range of interconnected sustainability challenges. By aligning with the SDGs, organisations contribute to a collective effort toward achieving global sustainable development. This alignment fosters collaboration, shared knowledge, and collective action across sectors, regions, and stakeholders.

2) SDGs bring credibility and legitimacy 

Furthermore, utilising the SDGs brings credibility and legitimacy to an organisation's sustainability efforts. As the SDGs are endorsed by the United Nations and embraced by governments, businesses, and civil society worldwide, they provide a recognised standard for measuring progress and impact. By embracing the SDGs, organisations demonstrate their commitment to addressing global priorities and contribute to a shared language of sustainability.

3) SDGs create a strategic roadmap

The SDGs also offer a roadmap for prioritisation and strategic focus. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs allow organisations to identify and address the most relevant and impactful sustainability issues within their sphere of influence. By aligning their activities with the SDGs, organisations can effectively prioritise efforts, track progress, and communicate their contributions in a meaningful and globally understood manner.

4) SDGs support transparency and accountability

Moreover, embracing the SDGs promotes transparency and accountability. The SDGs provide a framework for monitoring and reporting progress, enabling organisations to assess their performance against globally recognised benchmarks. This transparency builds trust among stakeholders and allows for meaningful comparisons and collaborations among organisations working towards common sustainability goals.

5) A global community of resources makes sustainability easier

Lastly, by utilising the SDGs, organisations tap into a vast array of resources, tools, and partnerships already established by the global community. Numerous initiatives, networks, and platforms have emerged to support SDG implementation, offering guidance, expertise, and opportunities for collaboration. By aligning with the SDGs, organisations can access this wealth of knowledge, connect with like-minded partners, and leverage existing resources to enhance their sustainability endeavors.

Level up your SDG work

How can I work with the SDGs? Many organisations struggle with this and only map their work against the SDGs but that doesn't highlight the real sustainability challenges. Here are some tips to take your SDG work to the next level.

Make your own insights

SDSN Northern Europe promotes the SDG Impact Assessment Tool which helps you make your own SDG insights. This is a free online tool for learning and strategic decision-support that visualises the results from a self-assessment of how an activity, organisation or innovation affects the SDGs.

The tool aims to stimulate the user to get a better understanding of the complexity of sustainable development and the different aspects of the SDGs. In the end you will be better equipped to prioritise actions ahead.

The tool is very easy to use and has both written and video instructions as well as a guide and frequently asked questions.

Highlight both positive and negative impact

It is crucial to resist the temptation of cherry-picking certain goals while neglecting others. The SDGs form an interconnected framework, and their success relies on addressing all dimensions of sustainable development. It is essential to adopt a holistic perspective and honestly evaluate the positive and negative impacts of our actions and operations.

This approach enables us to identify areas for improvement, mitigate potential harm, and to make informed and balanced decisions with sustainable outcomes.

Foto: Dall-E

As we strive towards achieving the SDGs, it is important to acknowledge that goal conflicts may arise. The 17 SDGs are interconnected and aim to address multiple dimensions of sustainable development simultaneously. However, in some instances, pursuing progress in one goal may unintentionally create challenges or hinder progress in another.

These goal conflicts highlight the need for careful consideration and integrated approaches when implementing the SDGs. By adopting holistic strategies, promoting synergies, and fostering dialogue among stakeholders, we can navigate goal conflicts effectively and strive for balanced and sustainable outcomes across all dimensions of development.

Avoid cross-border spillover effects 

Cross-border spillover effects occur when actions taken in one country to advance the SDGs have unintended (or known) consequences on other countries, either positive or negative. These effects include environmental and social impacts embodied into trade, economy, finance, and security that transcend national borders. For example, a country's increased emissions due to industrial growth can negatively affect neighboring countries' air quality and contribute to climate change, highlighting the interconnected nature of global challenges.

This is a very important aspect to become aware of and keep in mind for institutions and organisations in the Nordic countries. The SDSN spillover index in the Sustainable Development Report shows that the Nordic countries have large impact on other countries and need to ensure that actions for the SDGs do not undermine the well-being and development prospects of others.

Remember that each person is important

"Leave No One Behind" is a core principle of the SDGs and underscores the commitment to ensure that no individual or group is excluded or left behind in the pursuit of sustainable development.

The Leave-No-One-Behind Index in the SDSN European Sustainable Development Report tracks inequalities along four dimensions: poverty, services, gender, and income. The trends on several leave-no-one-behind indicators are not heading in the right direction in many EU member states, among them the Nordic countries.