The UN Sustainable Development Goals

One year ago, “The Age of Sustainable Development”, a series of three posts to this blog, sought an operational definition of “Sustainable Development” as that term applies to smaller manufacturers. That is, a definition that answers the question: “what characteristics and actions can be expected to enable smaller manufacturing firms to grow and prosper indefinitely, within context of a sustainable world?” (A sustainable world does not self-destruct ecologically, socially or economically.)

UN FlagThe third of those posts explores the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations’ Goals serve to remind us of just how broad the scope of doing business is today. Finding a way to keep in meaningful contact with the multitude of changes occurring in globalized commerce is a major management challenge for smaller manufacturers. The following is extracted from that post:

U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Earlier posts in this series of posts looked at two routes to an actionable definition of “Sustainable Development”. The first was the original (1987) Bruntland Commission single sentence definition: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The second approach was to take the entire contents of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ “The Age of Sustainable Development” – the on-line university level course (a “MOOC”), along with the 500+ page textbook – as an operational definition.

Clearly, a single sentence definition isn’t specific enough, while a book plus a MOOC is a bit much. A third route involves the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. By examining these global goals, smaller manufacturers can identify specific, actionable areas that fit with their business and those it serves. From those specifics, each firm can construct their own operational definition – a definition that reflects and contributes to global initiatives.

The U.N. adopted an Official Agenda for Sustainable Development in September of this year (2015). The Official Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to be achieved by 2030. The Goals are sweeping, general statements, each reinforced by a number of more specific Targets. Sustainable Development Goal #1, along with its associated Targets provides an example:

Goal #1: End poverty in all of its forms everywhere

Target 1.1: By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

Target 1.2: By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

Target 1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable

Target 1.4: By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance

Target 1.5: By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters

 Target 1a: Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions

Target 1b: Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions

Before you throw up your hands and blow this off, consider that Goal #1 and its targets affect about 2 billion people. Any real global effort toward achieving this will involve huge opportunities in agricultural products, distribution methods, irrigation and other water related products, along with a multitude of other areas. Somebody will supply each piece of all that is required. Some will participate directly, others as suppliers to other manufacturers. So, many firms will do some business and help make the world a better place by doing so.

The remaining 16 Goals and the 162 Targets associated with them are just as ambitious as Goal #1. Rather than list them here, you can visit original list on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development website:

For Smaller Manufacturers

>> Each of these Goals and Targets deserve careful thought as to how they fit with your firm’s business model and web of relationships. The 17 Goals, taken together, are so broad that there has to be opportunities for just about anybody who can make anything. Personally, I don’t believe that world poverty will be eliminated within the coming 15 years. But there may well be significant action toward that end. China’s progress over the last few decades demonstrates that major improvement is possible. Helping even a fraction of 2 billion people out of abject poverty is a very good thing.

>> The U.N. Goals signify that the U.N. has decided to combine its (human) economic development efforts with Sustainable Development. That means the U.N.’s current idea of Sustainable Development has a much different focus from the original Bruntland Commission definition. Bruntland emphasized the longer term (inter-generational) relationship between economic development (meaning industrial development) and environmental impact. The new U.N. focus is shorter term and emphasizes human and fairness matters. The U.N. hasn’t forgotten the environment – just much more emphasis on people issues.

Chuck - VancouverThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

This blog and associated website ( are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.

U.N. Flag image licensed via

Links to the three posts comprising the “Age of Sustainable Development” series: