The first stage of research carried out by the Partners of UK SSD into the UK’s alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (GlobalGoals) is complete. As an advanced nation, how closely should we expect to be able to map and assess UK performance against the 17 Global Goals?
It turns out there’s an information gap, even here. Of the 230 indicators across the 17 Goals, around 173 have a direct application in the UK. Of these, a broadly corresponding measure can be found for around just 72% of the indicators, that’s 125.
There is a clear need for further data and research to enable the UK to be able to accurately assess its performance and then map a stronger contribution to the Goals.
Underperforming on Environment
Despite recent strong indications from Environment Minister Gove, the UK is on target to miss its renewable energy target of 15% by 2020, being only at 8.3% today. Of 24 water authorities, 9 report serious stress levels and 14 moderate stress levels, leaving only 1 performing adequately. According to the IMF, EAC and OECD, the UK still has substantial subsidies for fossil fuels so we’re far from meeting the UN Climate Accord targets.
Our food system still produces more than 15 million tonnes of food waste every year. 20% of our habitats for wildlife and 10% of species are in decline or threatened. Although we are doing better than some on replenishing fish stocks and managing fisheries, cod is still coded red for reduced capacity.
We’re not yet Beijing but we’re failing on air quality and pollution with an estimated 40,000 premature deaths caused by air pollution according to statistics from 2014.
Social inequality & poverty
Some of the key findings are a sorry indication of the level of social inequality in the UK today. Although poverty standards in the UK may differ to developing nations, we still show up with 16.8% of people living in poverty according to our national definition. That’s an outrageous statistic in 2018. Of 3 million people undernourished, 1.3 million of them are elderly. 21% of people live on less than 50% of the average income – that’s what we don’t talk about and quietly call the ‘underclass’.
Education doesn’t fare much better. 47% of young people still fail to achieve the minimum standard of 5 GCSEs when they leave school. We have long needed to reinvent our education system to incorporate more creativity and innovation, and adaptation to those children who are not suited to regimented study but it seems there are more of them than we think, alongside other complex factors that are contributing to this statistic. The North East continues to show up as a struggling to get to grips with youth unemployment, especially when compared to the South.
If you would like to get involved in providing feedback on the interim findings, you can volunteer to help UK SSD here.
What can business do?
I strongly believe it is the responsibility of every business to align to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I believe even more strongly that the nature of business has to change. We have to move from being businesses that exist to serve stakeholders and make profit for shareholders, to organisations who serve stakeholders, make a fair profit and engage with the global challenges of our generation. Every business can choose to actively play a part in the challenges in the Goals, right on their own doorstep.
It’s not about have good CSR policies or supporting the local charity. It’s about finding a way to fully integrate social and environmental action into the strategy and performance of the business.
- If you manufacture toilet brushes – you’ve an adjacency to plastic pollution and water issues Goals 6 and 14.
- If you are accountants – you’ve an adjacency to Decent Work & Economic Growth, Goal 8.
- If you’re a supermarket – you’ve an adjacency to No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Affordable & Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities & Communities, Responsible Consumption and more.
- If you’re a fashion brand – you’ve an adjacency to Good Health & Wellbeing, Gender Equality, Clean Water & Sanitation, Reduced Inequalities, Decent Work & Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption & Production and more.
It’s not just by looking at your supply chain to make improvements that you can take action. Sometimes it also takes imagination to pull your action together into one big mission and movement that can capture the hearts and minds of your stakeholders. A Planetary Purpose if you like.
Some organisations have embraced this. Unilever has its Sustainable Living programme. Vf Corporation who own Timberland, Wrangler, The North Face and many other apparel brands has recently launched Made for Change.
What about your business? What can you do?
A great start is to map your current business against the Goals today. You might be agreeably surprised to find how many ways you are already aligned to the Goals. Once you’ve mapped your organisation, you can make a strategic plan to take action at the ‘back’ end of your business – the supply chain, and start to re-imagine how you might take action at the ‘front’ end of your business. By pulling together strategy, brand, product design, CSR, sustainability and even HR behind one vision and mission.
If you would like to explore what aligning to the Sustainable Development Goals, can do for your business, we run 1 Day Activate The UN Sustainable Goals workshops, and Activating Creativity Bursts and One Day workshops to get you started. Get in touch.
We Activate The Future Ltd is proud to be a Partner of UK SSD.