The real value of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Since their inception in 2015, there has been much debate around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) about their usefulness and whether or not they will drive any REAL outcomes.

Some of the concerns I hear most are:

  • There are too many goals – too complex?

  • The SDGs have a PR problem – too clunky?

  • The SDGs sought agreement with no action – too dreamy?

Many of these concerns may indeed be valid, but we can work with them. They are the world’s biggest ‘to do’ list, and they are, after all, the ONLY set of global goals to transform the world to a more inclusive form of capitalism. If they were not complex, with a PR problem and very ambitious I would be worried that they had been over simplified.

So, lets take them for what they are, and look at the immense value of this framework for businesses, government and other sections of society.


The complex nature of the goals ARE their biggest strength, as they were always intended to be used together interconnectedly, not in isolation from one another. This is often the least understood aspect of the goals.

Systems thinking is what is required to leverage this value, it’s about bigger picture thinking and linking topics together to create transformational change. Its not about incremental change, or one-off projects.

A great example of this is Local Government Authority, City of Melbourne who are delivering an integrated response to the SDGs through the Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. Councils can use this framework systemically, as they impact every goal directly or indirectly.  


The SDGS are the ultimate crowd sourced strategy. With 194 countries consulted, across all sectors and the tagline “We the People”, it’s a story of us. With their universal appeal, they are a reminder of our shared humanity and interconnectedness.

In our polarised world we need that common language for different stakeholders to start a conversation. Although much of the SDGs are in “UN speak”, with a little personal translation of the indicators, the cross sector, multi state, cross country ability to speak that common language is unprecedented.

Unlike their predecessors the MDGS, the SDGs are not just about developing countries. Every country in the world has work to do on the world’s biggest to do list.  ‘The SDGs have turned every country into a developing country’- said James Gomme, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). There is not one country in the world that has green lights on all goals.



Interface founder, the late Ray Anderson once said ‘What is the business case for ending life on earth? There isn’t one’.  In fact, its quite the opposite.

Consider a report released earlier this year by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, a group led by 35 CEOs and civil society leaders. The group concluded that sustainable business models aligned to the SDGs could open new markets worth up to $12 trillion and create up to 380 million new jobs by 2030.

Large organisations are already generating real value from business strategies aligned with the SDGs, from just 13 Corporates studied by Trucost, they were already generating $233bn in SDG aligned value. They are already shaping the global economy and driving business trends.

For companies it’s not about ‘cherry picking’ the goals they want to work on, but finding those that are material to present and future strategy. This materiality assessment cannot be done, without engaging stakeholders and understanding the business case.


One of the most exciting things about the global goals is that they speak to PURPOSE, at the individual, company, government level. From schools, to universities to not for profit organisations. Its easy to see how SDGS can ignite conversations and discussion on purpose. When I run my sessions on SDGs I always ask, ‘which goal resonates with you most?’, and there is always one which gets each person really fired up. From gender, to poverty to climate action, SDGs are a place where purpose lives. They represent a form of inclusive capitalism that we all want to get on board with, so making your SDG approach resonate with employees and customers can be a good place to start.

In conclusion:

  • Its time to fall in love with complexity – with systems thinking as your new guide.

  • Get executives excited about the business opportunities and value to the bottom line.

  • Use the common language to build your own narrative and story as the foundation for collaboration and engagement with employees and customers.

  • Most importantly, remember we are all in this together and there is much work to do.

I get that the world’s biggest to do list can be overwhelming, so here’s your chance to learn more. Come to one of two MASTERCLASSES.



Not For Profits & the SDGs – coming soon!

Can’t make it? too far away for you? Leave an expression of interest for future dates and other locations, by clicking here.


Asha Kayla