5 Ways To Implement SDGs Into SMEs

Published on:
by Eric Burdon

2020 marked the beginning of the Decade of Action, at which point the United Nations assembled a list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aiming to both establish and comprehensively tackle the world’s most pressing issues. Of note, the goals target poverty, inequality and injustice, and climate change.

So far, 193 countries have signed and agreed to fulfil these goals by 2030. And while these SDGs - which comprise 17 goals and 169 targets - are designed for countries, companies can also align with many of these SDGs, using them as an operational ESG blueprint to make a positive impact on the world.

All it takes is some thought and implementation. So, here are several ways to make that happen:

Embed SDG In Business Strategy

The beauty of SDGs is they can remove the guesswork out of what goals a business should focus on. After all, one of the hurdles of ESG policy-making is what goal is actually realistic for the company. SDGs can both serve as a universal framework and also communicate performance.

Beyond that, companies can set targets and actions, then engage their audience through smaller-scale versions of what countries are doing in order to reach those similar goals.

Understand The Business And Value Chain Impacts

When a company lacks a formative sustainability strategy, it’s important to compensate for this by understanding what SDGs a company should work towards. A good way to understand this is to map out the company’s direct and indirect value chain impacts. Some examples of this are:

  • Where are suppliers located compared to the average consumer of your product or service?

  • How far away are employees from their home to their office?

  • What kind of environmental impact stems from the use of the product or service?

  • What happens to the product after it has reached the end of its use or life?

Asking those questions and getting answers can reveal commercial opportunities for the company to make contributions to SDGs. Some examples can be:

  • Tightening up supply chains to deal with companies within your country instead of abroad.

  • Changing hiring policies to allow for a hybrid working model. Employees can decide whether to work from home or commute.

  • Opening hiring policies to centralise equality, diversity and inclusion.

  • Incentivize employees to come to work via electric bikes, bicycles, walking, or public transit.

  • Opting for packaging that is biodegradable or from sustainable sources.

Checking SDG Targets

There are roughly 10 targets per goal, each demanding more the higher the level. A good way to implement this is to see which target is the most realistic for your company to work towards. You can treat that target as a primary goal and then test the waters not only for policy-making, but for employee enthusiasm towards implementing that specific goal. 

Adjusting Processes To Address SDGs

These will vary depending on what the company’s objectives, goals, and targets are. On a small scale, this can mean raising awareness of these values as a start, and then using that knowledge and inspiration to take action.

On a larger scale, this can take shape in policies, or it could be a means to establish councils, boards, or working groups made up of different working groups within the company. From there, ideas like climate mitigation projects or carbon offsetting efforts can then be filtered into ESG policies that the company can promote on a more widespread basis.

Investing In Governments

It is worth repeating that SDGs predominantly target countries rather than businesses, and as such are designed to be implemented and upheld at the governmental policy level. In a similar fashion to how consumers will support businesses who are working on smaller-scale SDGs, businesses can also support the government to meet targets. After all, governments are, second only to customers, the institution most likely to affect a company’s performance.

The simplest way to assist governments is to fulfil tax obligations promptly. In the end, governments make a large difference in the everyday lives of the people, so investing in the government can result in an improvement of the quality of life. In this sense, companies behaving as well regulated elements of society are providing indirect ESG (with a capital ‘S’) benefit to the people.

SDGs Are A To Become ESG-Friendly

SDGs are becoming more mainstream due to their relative ease of adoption, once companies understand the breadth of potential implementation that can be tailored to their specific circumstances. Since 2019, 72% of companies have mentioned SDGs in their reporting. And as more companies are going public about their progress, this will encourage more businesses to join, increasing public awareness of their efforts.

The adoption of change is never a linear process, and it will take more than top-down governmental efforts to implement any one of them to any significant degree. The SDGs provide a template for companies to take a step back and consider their own potential for operational change, which in turn can open up possibilities for stakeholder collaboration (yes, that can include government at the local and national levels). The positive feedback loops from multi-level collaboration may help provide some of the trickle-down effects that society needs to build awareness of the SDGs, and in doing so to keep the 2030 target a realistic outcome.

For a further take on how the UN SDGs are relevant for your business, see our previous article here.


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