How do you accelerate the implementation of the environmental dimension of the SDGs?
ResourceHUB is glad to present our founding partner’s blog post on “How do you accelerate the implementation of the environmental dimension of the SDGs?”. In the article, Giulia Biselli tells us about the importance of taking into consideration the social and economic dimensions of sustainable development when trying to accelerate the environment-related SDGs and the necessity to involve the private sector to foster such endeavours.
How do you accelerate the implementation of the environmental dimension of the SDGs?
As sustainability professionals, we are often asked what is our added value and what can we do to help, for instance, maximize revenues for our clients whilst trying to avoid disastrous collateral effects of their businesses’ operations on the planet and the communities. With a background in social science and little knowledge about environmental engineering, my contribution to the question “How do you accelerate the implementation of the environmental dimension of the SDGs?” is pretty straightforward – We must promote an integrated approach to sustainable development that puts equal emphasis on all aspects of sustainability criteria and not only on those which, for the moment, appear more compelling as compliance is more robustly regulated and which sanctions look scarier.
This interconnection is actually at the basis of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda, which clearly recognizes that the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of development are integrated and indivisible. Considering this, to me another question comes naturally: “how can we foster the achievement of ANY dimension of the SDGs without promoting progress in the others too?”. Environment, social and economic dimensions are not isolated silos and they constantly impact one another. To accelerate progress in one area, we must make sure that the other two do not lag far behind.
Environmental changes inevitably affect communities and groups, contributing to deepening the fractures of social and economic inequalities worldwide. On the other hand, an unjust, unbalanced society is unlikely to be sustainable in environmental or economic terms. For instance, we cannot give for granted that a single mother struggling to find a stable job with decent compensation because of endemic gender labour discrimination, who doubts her ability to afford the next meal for her children will see her participation in environmental initiatives as a priority. Unless recycling or buying organic food speaks to her personal situation and accounts for her specific needs and priorities, such engagement is unlikely to happen spontaneously. Multiply this phenomenon to entire villages, cities and even countries. This is just a simple but symbolic example of how confronting social inequalities can help relieve economic immobility and disseminate more conscious relations with innovative solutions whilst increasing individual stakes in the fight against climate change. Social and political stability is a precondition for the change we need to transition our economy and business models into something that is environmentally sustainable and efficient.
We know that achieving the SDGs is a shared responsibility, and as such it requires governmental actions at national, regional and local levels, providing domestic planning instruments, policies, strategies and relevant financial frameworks whose sophistication depends on national responses’ level of ambition. Such responsibility is acknowledged by international organizations and member states; however, there is still impairing inertia on the implementation of practical and trend-changing national legislations on sustainability issues, especially those concerning social themes, which only recently seem to have acquired some space on stage in a few future-looking countries (see for instance the - scattered, ununiformed but existent - EU instruments addressing gender discrimination and equal opportunities in employment). However, besides the legal inputs of regulators and the personal effort of individuals, a major player influencing the pace, targets and achievements of our collective journey towards equal, fair, sustainable development remains the corporate sector.
Corporations can be the driver of change and set the trends toward more sustainable business models and inclusive corporate cultures, leading the path to influence behavioural change and inspiring best practices of industry peers. Investment firms are increasingly diversifying their portfolios towards impact investing, promoting projects that create a positive impact, establishing new funds and raising the competitive advantage of virtuous enterprises. Progresses in this sense will require even more substantial long-term investments of capital from governments in green infrastructure and technologies, just as well as it is vital to provide an attractive investment solution for private capital in sustainable products and services, and more responsible production systems and supply chains. Recalling our previous example of a single mother trying to make ends meet, keep in mind that a long-term vision and planning for investments and funds dedicated to such issues require stable governments and social contexts in which these concerns can be prioritized. This is valid for environmental concerns, from renouncing single-use plastic products to investments or usage of more innovative green technologies, as well as for social and economic considerations (which as we saw before can be the booster for other dimensions). Private companies make up 90% of the jobs in the world and they can have a crucial role in poverty reduction and economic development by offering decent employment, which will, in turn, improve efficiency and technology adoption and innovation, providing an ameliorated distribution of goods and services overall.
Another key element related to this aspect is the need to compel companies (especially those who receive conspicuous institutional investments) to meaningfully account for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria that are relevant to the SDGs in their decision-making. In order to do so, companies need to adopt effective strategies, comprehensive approaches, a defined legal framework of reference and a long-term perspective that goes beyond the financial quarters' urgencies. Vital to highlight further is also their role in enhancing the effectiveness of cooperation towards the realization of the SDGs, through partnerships and knowledge sharing initiatives for best practices and innovative techniques. After all, saving our planet and levelling inequalities in an uneven society cannot rely on a few superheroes. It needs a global team effort.
In conclusion, I would advocate that promoting awareness and comprehensive understanding of all the interconnected dimensions of the SDGs, at the individual, corporate and State level is essential. As well as organizational competence, financial capital and regulative instruments that assist but also account for an improved commitment and adoption of more inclusive and wide-ranging strategies and policies, which need to be strengthened by a solid accountability mechanism that keeps on the right track non-state enterprises.
It might sound like we need to fix the plane while flying it in a vicious circle, take into consideration the social and economic factors as they will influence the environmental aspect which on the other hand can actually be the root cause of economic and social instability in the first place. But you will see that this just happens to be the way our planet and society naturally works, we just need to understand it, own it and translate it into as many dimensions possible, in our individual daily life, in our businesses and in our greater civil society.
Article first published on: https://thegreenforum.org/blog/how-do-you-accelerate-implementation-environmental-dimension-sdgs-0
About Giulia Biselli: Giulia is a social sustainability and human rights specialist and the co-founder of BST Impact sàrl. She has several years of professional experience in assessing and evaluating labour conditions and potential human rights violations in diverse geographical contexts supporting the creation and development of assessment tools and frameworks to verify adherence to international standards.
To know more about Giulia, visit her LinkedIn profile.