Are there too may SDGs to tackle? Not if the private sector takes action

October 07, 2015

The business case for action on the UN’s Global Goals is clear, writes Stephanie Caun. Companies must seize the opportunity to help end poverty.


September 25th 2015 marked an exciting day here in New York City. 193 global leaders came together at the United Nations to formally adopt the new sustainable development goals (SDGs) for the world to achieve over the next 15 years.

At 17 goals (and an eye-watering 169 targets within these), it is perhaps not surprising that a couple of leaders voiced concern that these were too prescriptive, UK Prime Minister David Cameron included. It is likely true that the comprehensive nature of the goals could become unwieldy from a communications and advocacy perspective, however an issue as broad and complex as tackling global poverty requires this level of nuance in its solution.

The great benefit of the broad scope of the SDGs is that they capture many contributing factors to poverty that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the original goals set in 2000, were too narrow to address. The SDGs go beyond just the symptoms of poverty to think about some of the causes too, and cover a wide range of issues ranging from infrastructure (Goal #9) and clean water (Goal #6) to gender equality (Goal #5) and inclusive cities (Goal #11).

Moreover, the range of issues and targets provide multiple channels for multiple groups with different agendas to tackle them.  Rather than just being a tool to shape government policies (as many viewed the MDGs), the broadened scope of the SDGs provides ample opportunity for businesses to participate and make a large impact.

The breadth of coverage doesn’t mean that companies needs to align with every single goal, but rather there is better opportunity to pick the ones that are most material to the business and where they are best placed to make a positive impact. While some companies have aligned their thinking to every goal (see Mars, for example), many will choose to use relevant SDGs for guidance to drill down on their most material issues.

For example, P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program has been working to improve the health of children by providing them with clean drinking water (aligned with goal #6). Similarly, Merck’s Merck for Mothers initiative is helping to end deaths of women from pregnancy and childbirth complications, which is a key target for goal #3.

The business case for taking action on the SDGs is clear. From a long-term perspective achieving these goals is essential to the future business operating context. They also provide the opportunity for building better stakeholder relationships, revenue creation, and an enhanced license to operate. We set out the business case in more detail in our latest report: From My World to Our World: What the SDGs mean for Business.

So a message to the private sector: use the scale and ambition of the SDGs to focus down on the issues where you can really make a difference, and be among the pioneering organisations who seize this opportunity to help end poverty for good.


Stephanie Caun is a Consultant at Corporate Citizenship.