Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals is everyone's business, but how do you convince everyone else of that?

This week Measuring Up, the first comprehensive assessment of the UK's performance against the SDGs, was released. It makes for tough reading.

What is your organisation doing to meet the SDGs? asks Amanda Powell Smith
What is your organisation doing to meet the SDGs? asks Amanda Powell Smith

The UK is performing well on only a quarter of all the goals, and the profound problems of poverty and malnutrition are on the rise.

This matters for every business in the UK because we are part of the communities we serve and when they do well, so do we.  

Unfortunately most businesses don’t know about the SDGs, let alone how the UK is performing against them. 

That’s because they aren’t high-profile or relevant enough. One reason is they are so big and wide-ranging that it is hard to make them tangible. There are 17 SDGs and 169 targets within them. 

Even businesses that are committed to progressing against them often struggle to translate aspiration into action.

You can forget Government taking a lead – Brexit is the only game in town for them. 

That leaves the way open for businesses to take on a much bigger role, not just because they should, but because the SDGs provide the perfect framework for guiding and gauging a company’s purpose.

To use that framework, you need to translate the SDGs into something more accessible and engaging for your different audiences and, crucially, not bite off more than you can chew. 

Unless you are a large multinational, you are unlikely to be able to tangibly make a difference across all 17 Goals.

So, choose the ones that have most relevance and legitimacy for your business. What action can you take that will make a real and lasting difference in that area?

Once you have chosen the ones you are going to concentrate on, they need to be translated into a language that is understood by the audiences you are seeking to engage. 

It doesn’t matter if those audiences have no idea which SDG you are seeking to tackle, nor even more than a vague awareness of what the SDGs are – what matters is seeing your focus and ambition described in a way that creates touchpoints with their passions, interests and concerns.

The third step is action to back up the words. 

Announcing your desire for the business to prioritise one or a few of the SDGS is the easy bit; building them into day-to-day performance targets, and giving your team and others permission to spend time and effort working on them, is where change really takes place.

Some businesses focus too much on announcing initiatives, then watch them peter out. 

Tackling the SDGs will take decades and businesses need a long-term vision that allows for constantly revitalising and replenishing audiences' interests and involvement. 

While that might seem like anathema to businesses that are so often beholden to short-term drivers, the advantages of having a long-term mission underpinning an organisation are significant.

So, if you are a business leader, ask yourself: "Are the SDGs playing a central role in our work? And if not, why not?"

Amanda Powell Smith is CEO of Forster Communications 

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