• Sarah Hyland

What are the Sustainable Development Goals, and what do they mean for your business?

As small business owners, it can be hard just getting through the day and making ends meet. We do the things we need to do, and then anything else we can fit in is a bonus!


Thinking about our impact and how our organisation touches the people, communities and the ecosystems around us is not often front of mind, but often a driving force for why we go into business in the first place.


Let's not lose this!

The nature of the value to be created by adapting a holistic approach to organisational accountability and impact measurement will be different for every business. But it’s clear that there is value to be had.

Consumer tendencies are clearly changing, with more and more people preferring to buy from brands with sustainable practices. There are also profitability arguments to be made, for example, from increased efficiencies, more sustainable supply chains, and creating competitive advantages.


There are many different frameworks and methodologies for approaching this shift in organisational behaviour and accountability, however the United Nations Sustainable Development goals (SDGs) are amongst the most well known and commonly accepted.


So what are the Sustainable Development Goals and what do they mean for your business?


In 2015, 193 countries of the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for shared and durable prosperity by 2030. Together they form a set of international objectives to help “achieve a better and more sustainable future for all".


According to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, by the year 2030 sustainable business models could unlock more than $10 trillion of economic opportunities and nearly 400 million jobs.

Many large companies, Governments and Not-for-profits around the world have already taken the lead and are demonstrating how their business practices are contributing to the goals in their yearly reporting.


I hear you.. "That's nice, but they have large teams dedicated to this sort of thing. What about the little guys?"


For a lot of small businesses, thinking about how SDG-alignment can benefit the business in the short- and long-term isn't something which seems worthwhile prioritising amongst our already stretched capacity and energy levels.


The good news is that there are now a number of free assessment tools to help you start evolving and adapting your and your organisations thinking, systems and processes when it comes to sustainability (see links at bottom of page).


The first step, in approaching the SDGs is to decide how alignment might be beneficial to your business, and how your organisation fits amongst the 17 goals. What goals does your business touch on directly? Indirectly? Where could you proactively have an influence?


Starting with these questions, an organisation can begin to imagine its place on the SDG map and start making decisions about how it wants to contribute


What is the rush!?


There are just 10 years left to achieve these ambitious SDGs.


In Australia, Small businesses account for 35% of Australia's gross domestic profit and employ 44% of Australia's workforce. As significant contributors to the economy and society, small business need to act now, as does everyone else to create accountability around a collective, thriving future.


Current trends in organisational sustainability are showing that to merely align, or support in principle the SDGs in your business won't be enough. Consumers and stakeholders more broadly are demanding transparency, and want proof that they are supporting sustainable, and impactful businesses.


Organisations will soon be expected to:

  1. Identify and prioritize SDGs that are most aligned to their business priorities and core competencies

  2. Establish SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals and targets that generate quantifiable value; and,

  3. Report progress in a regular, standardised and useful fashion.

What are you waiting for!? Make a start today.


Here are some links to free and easily accessible tools for small businesses to begin their SDG alignment journey:


- SDG Compass

- SDG Action Manager

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