Date posted: 18/03/2019 8 min read

How to get started with the UNs Sustainable Development Goals

Accountants can help make the world a better place by including UN Sustainable Development Goals in their business strategy.

In Brief

  • The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable prosperity around the world.
  • Finance professionals are being encouraged to incorporate these SDGs into business strategies.
  • SDGs are not only for governments and the big end of town; even smaller accounting practices can focus on achieving one or two of the goals.

By Christopher Pash

In 2016, the United Nations released its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity”. The Agenda aims to eradicate poverty, promote prosperity and protect the planet from degradation.

At its core are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty, Gender Equality and Clean Water and Sanitation, and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.

Achieving those goals could create US$12 trillion in market opportunities in food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and wellbeing, according to the 2017 Better Business Better World report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission.

But it’s not only governments and big multinationals that can help the world get there. “Even in a small, local accounting practice there are things you can do,” says Karen McWilliams FCA, business reform leader at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ).

“Advancing gender equality and ensuring employees and contractors are not overworked to look after their mental wellbeing are a couple of really practical ways even small businesses can target two of the 17 goals.”

A first step, she says, is to identify one or more of the 17 goals towards which your organisation can make a significant positive contribution and then make them a strategic priority.

For example, Meridian Energy, New Zealand’s largest electricity producer, is focused on the Affordable and Clean Energy, and Climate Action goals. “These are where as a renewable energy generator and retailer of electricity we can shift the dial for New Zealand,” the company states in its FY18 annual report.

What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes these 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

1. No Poverty

2. Zero Hunger

3. Good Health and Wellbeing

4. Quality Education

5. Gender Equality

6. Clean Water and Sanitation

7. Affordable and Clean Energy

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

10. Reduced Inequalities

11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

12. Responsible Consumption and Production

13. Climate Action

14. Life Below Water

15. Life On Land

16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

17. Partnerships for the Goals

In 2016, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) identified the following SDGs as the most relevant for the accounting profession: Quality Education; Gender Equality; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; and Partnerships for the Goals.

5 tips to get started with SDGs

So how does an organisation go about incorporating these laudable goals into its strategy? Catherine Hunter, KPMG Australia’s head of Corporate Citizenship, and chair of the UN Global Compact Network Australia, has these tips.

  • Increase your knowledge and understanding of the SDGs framework. It’s not just about overseas development, as some assume.
  • Understand the positive and negative social impacts of your business and along its value chain. Then look for how you can enhance positive impacts and mitigate negative ones.
  • Align your strategy with the SDGs. Don’t just map your existing initiatives against them. Make it about your core business, not philanthropy.
  • Report against the SDGs.
  • Focus your efforts where you can have the greatest impact. You can’t cover all the SDGs. And don’t underestimate the importance of SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals.

There‘s never been a better time to have companies understand and report on their social, environmental, and financial performance and how they work together in the ecosystem,” Hunter says. “It‘s vital to employee attraction and retention, and it‘s really important to acting with integrity and authenticity, which is key to public trust.

Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Click here to learn more

Download KPMG’s guide How to Report on the Sustainable Development Goals

Read it here

Why the UN needs CAs to make the world better

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