Colorful wooden blocks with SDG goals printed on the front.

If you’re looking to become fluent in the world of impact, there’s no better universal language (Esperanto, anyone?) than the UN SDGs.

Coming oh-so-close to the triple crown for acronyms, the UN SDGs (full name: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals—we’ll refer to them from here on out as the SDGs), represent a set of seventeen goals, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, that provide a systematic approach for addressing our planet’s most pressing societal and environmental issues.

A Blueprint of Peace and Prosperity for People and the Planet

The UN thinks of the SDGs as a “blueprint of peace and prosperity for people and the planet.” We here at Unit like to think of these as BHAGs, but ending with a P: These are the Big, Hairy, Audacious Problems the world must surmount if we’re to ensure a sustainable future for our planet (and we humans who inhabit it). In crafting this approach, the framers of the SDGs recognized that all seventeen goals are interrelated; you can’t focus on solving hunger without creating gender equality for women; you can’t achieve zero hunger without climate action; and so on.

Think Globally and Act Locally

A diverse group of large corporations, ranging from Silicon Valley’s Salesforce to Idaho frozen potato company Lamb-Weston, are using the SDGs to drive their sustainability programs forward. So are countries, municipalities, and NGOs/nonprofits. But how do the SDGs apply to your small business?

The foremost reason for using the SDGs is, of course, because you want to use your business to create positive social and environmental impact in your community and have it tied to a larger effort around the world. 

More concretely than that, we think the SDGs provide a friendly, visual language and a practical way for you to identify, act on, and communicate the impact you want to make in the world. As important, they give you an efficient way to focus your precious resources by narrowing areas you are passionate about addressing. The 17 categories, from “Ending Poverty” to “Climate Action,” make it easy for you and other stakeholders — for instance, your employees and your customers — to understand the difference your company is making the world. To put it simply, the SDGs are a “quick get,” and not to be overlooked, they are free to use.

What Else We Like about the SDGs for Business

Here are some of the other benefits we think you can gain from using the SDGs: 

  • They provide a solid structure for your sustainability strategy
  • They’re a fantastic co-branding element for your communications.
  • They’re great conversation starters with your customers
  • They increase the relevance of your business with your workers, your community, and to society at large
  • They give you a new mother tongue, one common language for speaking “sustainability” within and outside your company
  • They create new opportunities for partnerships with other companies, nonprofits, and governmental entities. (The last SDG, #17, actually encourages “Partnerships for the Goals.”) 

Two Small Businesses Embracing the SDGs

Mindful Proteins is a public benefit corporation in Portland, Oregon. The inspiration for the company’s founding was to provide products that deliver improved nutrition, which aligns with their focus area on SDG2-Zero Hunger and SDG3-Good Health and Wellbeing. Mindful Proteins also conducts a carbon footprint analysis on its company operations as part of its commitment to SDG-13 Climate Action, with similar programs for the other SDGs it has identified for focus, SDG5-Gender Equality, SDG8-Decent Work and Economic Growth, and SDG12-Responsible Consumption and Production.

Another small business utilizing the SDGs is one of Unit Co’s founding companies, Oliver Russell, a small social impact branding firm with fewer than 10 people. Each March for Women’s History Month, it develops a social media campaign and turns over its social media platforms to promote SDG5-Gender Equality. It contributes pro bono resources and cash donations to the nonprofit City of Good and to 1% for the Planet as its commitments to SDG-11 Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG-13 Climate Action, respectively. It also operates PlasticWorks Lab, a plastic upcycling lab to educate the community about SDG-12 Responsible Consumption and Production.

The Time for Action is Now

So what are you waiting for? Your community and the broader world need your help! Why not adopt the SDGs as a framework for your small business impact today and join others in helping solve our planet’s Big, Hairy, Audacious, Problems? After all, isn’t that what we do nearly every day in our businesses, solve problems big and small?

Oh, and if you have questions about the SDGs, just let us know – we’d be happy to continue the conversation.

Additional Resources

The SDG Compass is a guide developed specially to educate businesses about the way they can participate in the SDGs. 

Gaia Education makes some pretty nifty SDG flashcards that are great for team building around the goals 

Inspiration, innovation, and entertainment – The virtual SDG Global Festival of Action brings the global community together to drive action toward achieving the goals. 

B Lab, the nonprofit that runs B Corp certification, has created a tool called the SDG Action Manager, a tool that helps businesses take action and track their progress on the SDGs.

The SDGs for Children – a nonprofit initiative to educate and activate kids in the movement to achieve the goals.

See it the SDGs in action – B1G1 is a global giving platform for small-business impact that orients its community around the SDGs.

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