International - Europe

The sustainable development goals (SDGS): what do they entail for companies?

September 25th 2018 marked the 3rd anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve by 2030.

Adopted by 193 countries at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development on September 25th 2015, "the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" sets 17 SDGs to "eradicate extreme poverty, combat inequality and preserve the planet"1.

The 2030 Agenda: a universal, inclusive and cross-cutting framework to be implemented by all stakeholders, on a voluntary basis

The 17 SDGs set by the 2030 Agenda (see list at the end of this article) are meant to be:

  • structuring, by integrating and putting on the same level the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental);
  • universal, by being applicable in the same way by all the countries of the world;
  • indivisible, by highlighting the interdependence of the goals;  
  • communicative, by being thought to be understandable by all;
  • collaborative, by emphasizing, with the SDG 17, the importance of the development of partnerships (between the State and the actors of civil society, within the same country or between countries) in order to achieve the goals.

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs are not legally binding. However, they are a framework for Sustainable Development by 2030 that Governments are committed to implement and on which they must report.
If they are primarily aimed at the States, the SDGs will not be achieved without an active mobilization of all the stakeholders: local authorities, companies, researchers, NGOs and citizens are therefore invited to take ownership of these goals and to contribute, within their means, to their achievement. These stakeholders can voluntarily decide to carry-out their sustainable development actions within the framework of the 2030 Agenda. For each SDG, the contribution of each stakeholder may differ depending on the business sector, the organization and its objectives.
The communicative character of the SDGs, their universality and their ability to speak to all the stakeholders in a common language make the 2030 Agenda an interesting frame of reference for sustainable development, including for companies.

The 2030 Agenda: a framework for companies

Companies, irrespective of their size or business sector, are a key player in the achievement of the SDGs, by placing on the market appropriate products or solutions to meet the needs.

With the 2030 Agenda, companies have a universal and global framework they can use to highlight their contributions to sustainable development through their activities, based on the actions implemented as part of their CSR policy (Corporate Social Responsibility).

If the SDGs use as a frame of reference is voluntary, they can be useful to companies to, for example:

  • perform a self-assessment or evaluation of their CSR performance;
  • serve as a framework for the development of the CSR strategy;
  • give employees a new sense of purpose and involve them on a positive mission with long-term ambitions;
  • dialogue with stakeholders by using the 2030 Agenda as a common language;
  • innovate in a collaborative manner, in the sense that SDGs promote the development of partnerships (between companies and with other stakeholders) to create an integrated offer, to seek financing, to design projects that would not have been possible to develop alone;
  • evaluate their performance compared to that of their French, European or international competitors.

The concept of SDGs is not intended to replace the concept of CSR for companies. CSR, which is a business contribution to sustainable development, is a tool aimed at placing social, environmental and governance issues at the heart of business strategy and management. By implementing a CSR approach, companies contribute to the SDGs.
1 List of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals:

  • SDG 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • SDG 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • SDG 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • SDG 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • SDG 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • SDG 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  • SDG 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • SDG 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • SDG 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • SDG 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • SDG 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • SDG 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • SDG 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • SDG 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • SDG 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
  • SDG 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
  • SDG 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

For further information, please see here