Sustainable development represents a set of principles and goals that businesses work towards in order to better the planet while still growing and succeeding economically. Sustainable development goals, also called SDG goals, encompass factors ranging from energy efficiency to social responsibility, ensuring sustainable growth that does not occur at the expense of workers, consumers, or the planet.
In addition to stated outcomes of SDG goals, many of these initiatives mitigate the rising frequency of natural disasters when applied. While it is a high-level concept, applying sustainable development goals is possible for all types and sizes of business in different ways.
Table of contents
2.1. Ending poverty
2.2. Ending hunger
2.3. Healthy living
2.4. Quality education
2.7. Sustainable cities
2.8. Climate action
2.9. Conserving oceans
What is sustainable development?
Sustainable development is an idea first articulated in 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Dvelopment published a report defining it as “development that meets the needs of the present world without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs”.Sustainable development is a mutually beneficial arrangement between businesses and their surrounding area that balances the needs of both parties.
The general characteristics of a sustainable development strategy are:
- Natural use of resources that avoids over-exploitation of said resources
- Uninterrupted economic growth in the long term
- Promoting and producing eco-friendly, biodegradable products that minimize environmental damage
- Resources used should be renewable or reusable
More specifically, a sustainable development strategy addresses three kinds of sustainability in business: social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and economic sustainability.
Social sustainability refers to the way a business treats its workers and interacts with the surrounding community. A socially sustainable business pays workers fairly, ensures that they are safe at work, prioritizes gender, racial, and other forms of equality, and mandates ethical conduct all along its supply chain.
Economic sustainability is a focus on long-term growth through application of sustainable practices such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, and reuse of materials. It is distinct from economic growth, as growth focuses only on sales without an eye on the long-term effects or viability of business practices.
Environmental sustainability is what most people think of when they hear “sustainability in business”; it’s all about reducing environmental impact as much as possible. Environmental sustainability means implementing climate-friendly measures all along your supply chain, such as making sure to work with sustainable suppliers. While it’s sometimes assumed to cost more, environmental sustainability actually promotes future growth as the vast majority of consumers look to support sustainable companies, particularly in traditionally unsustainable industries like fashion.
What are the sustainable development goals?
Sustainable development goals refer to a very specific set of 17 goals, called the SDGs, put forth and regularly updated by the United Nations. These goals are targeted towards whole nations, but your organization can apply them as well. They cover every dimension of sustainability.
These 17 SDG goals are:
- Ending poverty worldwide
- Eradicating hunger and providing universal food security
- Ensuring healthy lives and physical well-being
- Providing quality education which is accessible to everyone
- Improving gender equality in various context, such as business and politics
- Providing ample and safe-to-drink water to all
- Ensuring access to clean and renewable energy and promoting its spread
- Improve employment conditions for workers and ensure long-term economic growth
- Building more sustainable and resilient infrastructure
- Reducing inequality within and between countries
- constructing sustainable cities and communities
- Incentivizing responsible consumption and sustainable production
- Directly mitigating climate change
- Preserving and conserving the oceans and ocean life
- Promoting justice and accountability in legal systems
- Partnering with various organizations to strengthen implementation of previous goals
Many of these goals are tough for individual businesses to tackle, and several are industry-specific – for example, your mining business probably can’t do much about access to education, but can certainly take steps towards improving worker safety standards and sustainable resource use. However they are all vital components of successful sustainable development, and most are interconnected.
How do the sustainable development goals address natural disasters?
A core aim of sustainable development is to bring down the number of natural disasters across the globe, since when a natural disaster strikes, it’s devastating to the progress of communities. Depending on the event, business growth can be set back months or even years, resources can be depleted, and quality of life sharply decreases. Of the 17 sustainable development goals outlined above, 10 explicitly mention reducing the frequency and/or impact of natural disasters.
Ending poverty addresses the impacts of natural disasters because it is the lowest-income areas that are most vulnerable to the sudden shock of a disaster. Ending poverty means that these communities will be better-equipped to face and recover from natural disasters.
Food security addresses disaster risk because embracing sustainable agriculture makes infrastructure more productive and helps communities adapt to the reality of climate change. Environmentally-friendly farming practices also improve overall soil quality.
A key component of helping people stay healthy is improving your response to health risks that arise, such as a natural disaster that threatens residents.
An important aspect of improving education is making sure that said education covers the necessity and implementation of sustainable development. Teaching individuals, communities, and business owners the steps of implementing sustainable development helps reduce the frequency of practices that contribute to natural disasters.
Available and clean water
Protecting water-related ecosystems so that access to water is improved will have the effect of reducing natural disasters as well. That’s because many disasters, like floods or hurricanes arise from water conditions.
Building resilient infrastructure means infrastructure that impacts the surrounding environment as minimally as possible and does not worsen climate change, which is a major driver of natural disasters. More resilient infrastructure is also more likely to survive in the aftermath of a disaster.
Among the initiatives needed to make cities more sustainable and habitable for all is a commitment to reducing the economic and health impacts of natural disasters on communities.
Probably the most clearly linked to natural disasters, climate action commitments mean emitting fewer greenhouse gasses, switching to sustainable energy sources, producing and consuming responsibly, and sustainably handling waste. All of these things lower the likelihood of natural disasters.
Just like ensuring clean water, preserving oceans and ocean life lessens the frequency of ocean-related natural disasters by regulating water and atmosphere conditions.
Protecting land-based ecosystems
The counterpart to preserving the oceans, caring for land-based ecosystems like forests, savannahs, and wildlands reduces disasters that occur there, such as wildfires. Fighting deforestation and desertification improves soil and land quality, helping mitigate the affects of drought.
How can you apply sustainable development goals to your business?
Your business can use the philosophy of sustainable development in several ways to improve conditions and lessen harmful impacts. Adopting policies that address the environmental, economic, and social components of sustainability will transform your organization’s image and operations. Remember that you should apply these policies not only to your business, but to every business in your supply chain.
Environmental sustainability policies
Specific policies depend on your industry, but there are many ways to introduce environmental sustainability to any company. If you produce goods, monitor the amount of energy used during the production process, by your equipment, fuel sources, lightbulbs, and more. That way you’ll be able to see which areas of your business could be more efficient.
Switching to recyclable or already recycled materials in your packaging is a simple way to cut down on the amount of waste your operations generate. Also consider how you store and ship products – the fuel efficiency and energy used in distribution as well as your inventory management are big parts of your carbon footprint.
When it comes to maintaining your facilities, switching to energy-efficient lights and heating, as well as going paperless on-site are great ways to be more environmentally sustainable.
Social sustainability policies
Socially sustainable management is chiefly about how you treat employees. Ensuring fair treatment and workplace safety are basic requirements for social sustainable companies. The human side of sustainability is about equity and representation within your organization, which means equality of genders, ethnicities, and sexual identities.
Social sustainability also covers interactions with your community, which is one area that it intersects with environmental sustainability. You want to avoid doing harm or polluting your surroundings just as much as you want to provide value.
Economic sustainability policies
Economic sustainability means establishing policies and procedures that strengthen your business operations in the long run, cutting out waste and excess production, and minimizing unused resources. In that sense, a lot of environmental sustainability policies are actually economic as well, since judicious use of resources means less money wasted. And finding ways to repurpose otherwise wasted materials gives your business more production power.
Implementing sustainable development goals and principles is easier with digital management and checklist apps like Lumiform. By using a digital checklist and reporting app, you’ll move all your data gathering, compliance, and analytics from paper to the cloud. In addition to being more sustainable, it’s also centralized and easier to find.
Create digital checklists to measure and enforce your processes, and identify ways to continue improving.