What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

What are the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and how can corporations leverage them?
March 9, 2022
5 minutes

The United Nations approved the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, in 2015 as a global call to action to eradicate poverty, safeguard the environment, and guarantee that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The 17 SDGs are interconnected. They realize that actions in one area impact outcomes in others and that their growth must balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Countries have agreed to emphasize improvement for those who are the most disadvantaged. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to eradicate poverty, hunger, AIDS, and gender inequality. To realize the SDGs in whatever setting, all of society's creativity, know-how, technology, and financial resources are required.

The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are as follows:

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  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

Why were the SDGs created?

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 gave birth to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The purpose was to create a set of universal goals that addressed the world's serious environmental, political, and economic concerns.

The SDGs took the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which began a worldwide campaign to combat poverty in 2000. Among other development concerns, the MDGs established significant, globally set objectives for combating extreme poverty and hunger, avoiding lethal illnesses, and expanding elementary education to all children.

For fifteen long years, the MDGs have created significant achievements in numerous key areas, including lowering income poverty, increasing maternal health, and providing much-needed access to water and sanitation. They also inspired governments to invest in future generations by launching a worldwide campaign for free elementary education. Most importantly, the MDGs achieved substantial progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other curable illnesses including malaria and TB.

The MDGs' legacy and accomplishments equip us with invaluable insights and experience as we start working on new objectives. However, millions of people throughout the world are still waiting for the job to be completed. We must go the extra mile to abolish hunger, achieve full gender equality, improve health care, and enroll every kid in secondary education. The SDGs are also a rallying cry for the world to change into a more sustainable path.

The SDGs represent a strong promise to accomplish what we began and address some of the world's most urgent issues. All 17 goals are interconnected, so success in one has an impact on the others. Handling the threat of climate change has an influence on how we manage our finite natural resources, establishing gender equality or improved health aids in poverty eradication, and building peace and inclusive society reduces inequities and aids economic growth. In a nutshell, this is the best opportunity we have to better the lives of future generations.

While each objective is important in and of itself, they all work together to ensure social, economic, and environmental sustainability, or, as the UN puts it, a global blueprint for dignity, peace, and prosperity for people and the planet today and in the future. Implementing global objectives is vital for the following reasons, according to Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Columbia University's Earth Institute:

- Encourage social mobilization

- Put political leaders under pressure

- Put networks of experience, knowledge, and practice into action

- Bring together stakeholder networks from different nations, sectors, and regions for a common objective


How can corporations leverage SDGs?

Companies are confronted with difficulties that restrict their growth potentials, such as limited natural resources, poor financial markets and limited local purchasing power, and a shortage of competent people. Therefore, it is high time for corporations to leverage the SDGs so that they can generate new possibilities in order to solve these issues across four major elements namely, growth, risk, capital, and purpose.

Drive growth

At a macroeconomic level, business development is linked to the fulfillment of the SDGs; however, to take action at the grassroots enterprises should understand how they can support to fulfill the objectives in a way that promotes financial results in the markets they operate in.

While SDGs 8, 9, and 12 specifically address economic development, employment, sustainable industrialization, innovation, and sustainable production, many of the other SDGs also benefit businesses by allowing them to expand into new markets, recruit talent, and reduce operational risk.

More adaptable communities, dependable access to natural resources, and a healthy and educated population to support their workforce benefit all businesses. Companies may help safeguard their potential to create capital and shareholder value over the near future by assisting in the development of these goals and producing mutual benefits.

According to a report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, sustainable business models connected to the SDGs could create up to $12 trillion in economic possibilities and 380 million job prospects by 2030.

Address risk

Needless to say that various corporations would fail to develop capital in the long run if natural, social, financial, and manufactured capital is eroding elsewhere. Each SDG indicates a risk area that is currently posing issues to businesses and society, and if not handled, these risks are only going to get worse. Supply chains are especially vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and natural resource depletion, which are addressed in SDGs 12, 13, 14, and 15. The potential of these developing economies is limited by geopolitical instability (SDG No. 16), inequality (SDG No. 10), and an absence of adequate growth in certain regions (SDG Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4). Stakeholders hold corporations accountable for their part in creating or increasing these risks, thus addressing these and other risks can make good financial sense. Catering to stakeholder requirements in these areas allows businesses to keep their social license active.

Attract capital

It is anticipated that both public and private investment flows would be redirected toward global development concerns articulated around the SDGs. The United Nations estimates that fulfilling the SDGs will cost between US$3.3 and US$4.5 trillion each year. Derived from the experience with climate finance, where government and private sector capital has flowed to projects through climate-focused global public institutions, it is expected that creative finance models will emerge. Green bonds, for example, are a new type of financial product developed by the private sector.

Focusing purpose

The SDGs will very certainly have a significant influence on the mission of many businesses throughout the planet. Responding to the SDGs is a method for all stakeholders to produce mutual benefit, and companies will be a major motivation in uniting stakeholders around a single goal. Companies that focus on a mission rooted in generating value for others, changing the society we live in, and motivating the company at all levels may be better equipped to drive profitability and produce long-term value. The SDGs may help a firm's purpose be focused on problems that drive innovation, attract and encourage people, create new markets and possibilities, and protect the organization from a variety of threats.

The purpose must have business relevance, be executable, and have a transformative impact in order to be engaged, connect, and eventually achieve its full potential. The SDGs may assist a firm in defining its desired purpose in a way that is appropriate and motivating to stakeholders, allowing purpose to form the cornerstone for its strategy, and sparking long-term good change that may boost shareholder value over time.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are unique in their own way as they address challenges that impact everyone. They restate our universal resolve to eradicate poverty in all of its forms, forever. They are determined to ensure that no one is forgotten or deprived. More significantly, they enlist our participation in the creation of a more sustainable, safer, and wealthy world for all of mankind.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a clarion call for all countries, developed and developing, to work together in a global partnership to achieve them. They understand that eradicating poverty and other forms of suffering must be combined with efforts to enhance health and education, decrease gender inequality, and accelerate economic development – all while combating climate change and protecting our seas and forests.