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SMEs and the United Nations SDGs

The United Nations have put forward their ideas to solve global sustainability and while elected officials and large corporations debate how to fix these huge problems, how do their targets apply to small business?

The Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The Goals interconnect and in order to leave no one behind, it ís important that we achieve each Goal and target by 2030.

These targets are of course ambitious and it’s estimated that it costs £1.2 trillion per year to achieve these goals and unfortunately funding is way short.

With practically insurmountable goals and huge sums of money required how on earth can a small to medium business join the good fight? In the rest of the blog, I will examine a few key goals and how we might consider our impact on them during the running of our businesses.

Goal 3: Good health and well-being

While it’s most likely you are looking at your employees and thinking that they are all healthy and ‘fine’, it might be the case that you simply do not know what it is really happening. It’s one thing to have all your HR policies in place but it’s another to actually give a damn.

Take a look at your benefits packages and who actually gets access to them. Does everyone get health care? Does everyone get enough annual leave or other time off to truly enjoy working for you? Does everyone have the necessary tools to do amazing work?

An important and often overlooked question is whether or not your team have access to the right level of mental health support. In my business creativity is everything but there is no creativity without vulnerability and no vulnerability without authenticity. When we are authentic we are putting ourselves out there and this can be tough, especially when in marketing we often have to deal with rejection. Do you have adequate mental health support? What about contacting a local therapist or coach and arranging something that gives your team easy, non-judgemental access to the support they need.

Goal 4: Quality education

For the United Nations, this refers to children getting access to life-changing education to help them take themselves out of poverty. Here in the UK education is still free and (relatively) easy to access. What about continued professional development?

One of our clients Jessica Hartung believes that by developing our staff and encouraging them to take their skills out into their local communities we can truly change the world. We love that idea. You get the benefits of a happy, well trained and enthused workforce while knowing that you are sending them out to make your local community better.

Work with your team to figure out what they are interested in beyond work and see if you can support that as well. It’s most likely that your SME doesn’t have huge numbers of employees, you can afford to invest in the individual – or rather you cannot afford not to?

Goal 5: Gender equality

Ensuring gender equality in your organisation is so important. It’s more than just hiring policies too, it’s about demonstrating how you treat everyone equally regardless of their gender and not buying into institutional sexism that we see every day.

It’s about calling out sexist language and behaviour when you see it and having zero tolerance for it in your business. I recently read a great article on Good Men Project that discusses the imbalance of the term ‘Cougar’ – there is no male equivalent and therefore an injustice.

  • Are you thinking about the language you use?
  • Are you providing a place where your staff can reach out if there is a problem?
  • Are you making every effort you can?

The best piece of advice I can offer is if you are not sure how to address gender equality then ask!

This also links to Goal 10: Reducing inequalities

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

As we spoke about in a recent blog post  sustainable marketing ideas for small business — choosing to find a source of clean energy is a huge step in sustainability.

There are several options for SMEs to pick from. We recommend Ecotricity as their service and pricing structure is incredible. They also have both personal and business accounts too.

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

“Buy from green companies that are equal opportunity employers” – that’s how this goal is defined by the United Nations. When I think of this in an SME world I think choosing suppliers.

Restaurants that choose local suppliers are a good example of considering who you are buying from. It’s definitely more difficult when looking at online suppliers, such as your technology partners. Is there even a social media planning software from a company that has principles?

Looking at everyone that is affected by your work is a way that you can figure out how they impact your business. This gives you the opportunity to audit them and figure out whether they are the right partner for the values that you hold dear.

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

This is a great consideration for any business of any size. This goal requires us to think about how we give purpose to old materials. There is a desire for new things. The rate of creation has gone up, new phones, new computers, new fashion trends and even new language is being created faster than ever.

We are running out of resources though and we must consider how we can rescue any waste that is being created. One of my favourite new brands is Costa Sunglasses and their products made from recycled waste found in the sea, particularly fishing nets.

At my local beach the other night it took less than 2 minutes to find several strands of fishing net lying on the beach. Solving two problems like cleaning up the ocean and providing people with effective sun protection is a great business model in my opinion.

Look at your business and what materials you use. Could you choose a material that gives a renewed life to something old?

This also links to Goal 12: Responsible production and consumption

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

How can your business think about the wider community and contribute to making it sustainable?

A great place to start is transport. Are you incentivising your staff to take public transport or ride a bike? What about a carpooling scheme?

Do you participate or create events in your local community? Is there a way that sustainability concepts could be brought into that?

How about speaking to your local council? What are they doing in terms of support sustainability and how can you contribute to that? This provides a huge opportunity to connect with local government and those kinds of connections are always very useful.

Goal 14: Life below water

Since Blue Planet 2 there has been a war waging on plastic in our oceans. Even National Geographic put it on their front cover. This highlights a real problem with our ecosystem, it’s predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

There is a great debate about things like plastic straws. While they actually only contribute a very small amount to the plastic pollution in the ocean it is a great start for people to start thinking about their plastic usage. Now there are lots of easy to access alternatives.

We contribute every month to Surfers Against Sewage and they have an online shop with lots of great plastic-free gifts.

Goal 15: Life on land

As we mentioned in our Sustainability for small business blog we talked about Carbon Offsetting and this is a great way to give back to the land.

One of the major ways to offset carbon is to plant trees. There are projects worldwide that you can support. Simply calculate your carbon and then buy the credits.

For businesses or personal, there are plenty of options to pick from. We have a great relationship with CarbonFootprint.com and I’d highly recommend reaching out if you have any questions, their team is awesome.

In total there are 17 goals and I’d actively encourage you to explore them all. If you have more than 10 employees then I’d also highly recommend looking into the United Nations Global Compact Division — the business connection between the UN and corporations.

Need help with meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? Get in touch and we can help you make your business  and the world  better.

About the Author Mark Roberts

Mark is CEO of Conscious Creatives. A passionate believer in doing the right thing is the key to being successful. He is also a photographer, filmmaker, writer and speaker.

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