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All Hands On Deck! The Sustainable Development Goals and What They Mean For You

The Members of the United Nations in 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but what does that mean? Here is a brief summary of everything you need to know about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and what they mean for you from a legal, business, and personal perspective.

A brief backstory


The 2030 Agenda encapsulates decades worth of work by the United Nations to incorporate tackling climate change, inequality, and poverty into State systems and everyday livelihood. Since its implementation, the annual SDG Progress Report and the Global Sustainable Development Report (which is produced every four years) provides data and information on a States status in aiming for the 17 SDG's.


The SDG's are as follows:

  • Goal 1: End Poverty in all forms, everywhere.

  • Goal 2: End Hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote healthy agriculture.

  • Goal 3: Good Well-Being and healthy living for all of all ages.

  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable Quality Education.

  • Goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and empower all women and girls

  • Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of Clean Water and Sanitation for all

  • Goal 7: Access to Affordable and Clean Energy

  • Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable Economic Growth, productive employment, and Decent Work for all.

  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and Sustainable Industrialization and foster innovation

  • Goal 10: Reduce Inequality within and among countries

  • Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • Goal 12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and production.

  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to Combat Climate Change and its impacts

  • Goal 14: Sustainable Sourcing to Preserve Life in Water

  • Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

  • Goal 16: Provide Access to Justice for all

  • Goal 17: Strengthen the Means of Implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development

Each goal has its own targets, events, publications, and actions. The most recent reports are the SDG Report in 2022, and the Global Development Report 2019, with the 2023 report currently undergoing it's production. In the former, and with reference to the pandemic, the Russia-Ukrainian War and the ever-growing Climate Crisis, it is said that the SDG's are in jeopardy. It also demonstrates a Road-Map for survival, with the intention of 'staying ahead of the curve'. What is more vital, however, is the emphasis on the point that due to the major setbacks, there must be nothing short of a collective and substantial effort to make progress.


So the question remains: What is the impact of the SDG's, and what do they mean for you?


The impact of the SDGs


The legal impact


Despite the SDGs being accepted by all Member States of the UN, they are not legally binding. In fact, the SDGs behold a blueprint of objectives that State Governments have taken as a responsibility to incorporate their respective countries.


This means that the SDGs are more or less an encouragement for businesses and institutions to become more sustainable, both for the economic growth of their country and also for the economic growth and recovery of the World internationally.


The main ways SDGs can be 'incorporated' in a way that can be reviewed by the UN - a mandatory process for Members who have agreed to the SDGs - is through businesses and institutions. Institutions mean schools or universities, public services, and international trade.


Since 2015, there have been substantial shifts in legal systems to readily encourage the public and businesses to strive towards the SDGs. From the perspective of Britain, acts such as the Domestic Abuse Act 2020, and the increasing age of consent to marry, serve to protect Women's Human Rights. In regard to the poverty crisis, the UK Government have been - for some time - distributing support grants to those who need financial support for food and bills. There has been a tremendous shift in the efforts to tackle starvation and homelessness. Yet, one could argue that this has not been enough - though this currently isn't for us to discuss since it's relatively clear as to the cause of some of Britain's shortcomings.


The business impact


Clearly, it's the State that is held accountable for their data and progress by the UN, however, it's businesses and institutions that are held accountable by the State, and supported by the State to make sustainable changes. As for the 17th Goal, it would seem that States are encouraging businesses of all kinds to take a step forward with the SDGs. As the UN says,


"It is not enough for companies to concern themselves only with short-term profits because natural disasters, social unrest or economic disparity can damage long-term prosperity."


There are options available for businesses to create partnerships with the UN, which will offer support is encouraging businesses to strive towards a more sustainable future. However, small businesses can, and have been, making smaller-scale changes since the 2030 agenda came into place.


The most significant impacts are often seen in everyday life. Many food suppliers have reduced their carbon footprint by resorting to British sources like British farms. There are also extensive 'Vegan/Vegetarian Friendly' options, which has actually resulted in the UK public eating significantly less meat or non-vegan foods. Other businesses have reformed their packaging or ingredients to be more environmentally sustainable or animal-friendly.


However, one main issue - which is essentially global - is the rising prices of food and consumer products, as well as the rising statistics of poverty. It would seem that sustainability comes at a greater cost, and progressing toward sustainability means a setback in poverty. One reason for this could be the issue of business profit, and the risk of businesses going bankrupt, or having to endorse pay cuts or severances if they didn't increase prices. Sustainable changes are relatively new, so it's understandable that shifts towards more sustainable alternatives can come at a greater expense - there is simply less of it on the market for businesses, and the demand is steadily growing.


So, on one hand, a business may strive to be more environmentally sustainable. But, they should consider that they may be becoming less economically sustainable on the other hand.


Businesses can also take steps to achieve gender equality and reduce inequalities in regard to employment and wages. In many applications, there is often a 'diversity questionnaire', which allows business to report their status in tackling inequality. However, it is clear thus far that there is still a significant way to go - only 39% of women represented employment worldwide, and unemployment rates are still at an all-time high.


Whilst Nations are making an effort to reform the economy and reduce the gender pay gap, the gap itself is still substantial. Among full-time employees the gender pay gap in April 2022 was 8.3%; this was 7.7% in April 2021 and 9.0% in April 2019 in the UK, Little difference has been made, so businesses should make a conscientious effort to regulate inequality within their workplace.


The institutional impact


Education and Public Services are often funded by the government, or through charitable donations. Since 2015, there has been a notable shift in education and public services toward supporting mental health and diversity, and many places now offer scholarships or grants to assist children from diverse or lower-class backgrounds to continue with education.


However, it can't be ignored that in light of the pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war, many workers, especially from Institutions such as schools or hospitals, are striking due to the lack of pay rises since before 2015. In 2021, healthcare workers only got 1%, payrise right after the commendable effort they put in to fight Covid-19, however this year, MP's are getting over £2000 extra per year while already on 80k+ salaries and the country is facing one of the worst economical crises in history. That's only scratching the surface of unfair pay in the UK, but regardless, it's clear that there is still a lot of work to go, especially in heavily populated countries, to make workplaces decent, enjoyable, or rewarding.


What the SDGs mean for you


There are two ways the SGDs will predominantly affect you. Financially - as a result of the impact on businesses - and personally - in the ways you'll be encouraged to change your current lifestyle to become more sustainable. With the Climate Crisis changing ways we live, and the Cost of Living Crisis affecting our finances, there's no way you won't be affected by efforts made to work for a better future.


Financially


The most obvious way you'll see the impact is financial. By now, many people are finding they have less and less money to distribute between house costs, utilities, and food. Due to the war in Ukraine, energy prices are skyrocketing, and taxes continue to rise as a result of losses. Prices are also rising because of massive inflation, and the UK as a whole is struggling to crawl out of the financial consequences of the pandemic.


Basically, everything is getting a little more expensive, or becoming a little less valuable. That means, your pocket is getting smaller. But, since we know this, the best way to remedy the negative impacts is through stringent budgeting, and knowing what financial support you're eligible for.


Many students after they graduate can be eligible for some benefits while they kickstart their careers. Those that are unemployed and have rent to pay can get a monthly payment from the government, and people who have physical disabilities, mental disabilities or mental health issues which can affect their ability to work are also entitled to funding. There is also a 'cost of living' fund and energy fund that can help you. Check the Government website to see what you're eligible for here.


Ways you can budget should start with knowing how much you spend without budgeting. Keep track of your costs with an Excel Spreadsheet or a recommended budgeting app. Some online banks offer budgeting services too. Then, you can make realistic goals each month to reduce your overall costs, and generate some savings, or use the leftover money elsewhere such as your monthly grocery visit.


As for crisis aid, unfortunately, the government no longer grants crisis loans, but you could be eligible for a budgeting loan or assistance from your local council. Find out more here.


As we can see, budgeting is the best way to control and track your expenses, so find a way to get started today.


Personally


Aside from the financial pressure, the pressure to change your current lifestyle will also come into full force. There's been strong activism for treating everyone equally, and the consequences are remarkable. However, that's not the only movement that will affect you - the one which will change how you live would be the consumerism movement.


Specifically, the encouragement to go vegan, or recycle, or use bio-degradable products. These are not bad lifestyle changes, and in fact, it's great they're being encouraged. But what does it mean and how can you start?


A lot of problems people run into when trying to switch products is the difference in expenses, use, and taste. Plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and other food products can have too many differences to be appealing. Other more sustainable products can be much more expensive, such as refillable shampoos or biodegradable packaging.


So, if you want to start buying more sustainably, where do you start?


Well, here's some researched general advice - some of which can help keep a few pence in your pocket too! I won't go into travelling more sustainably, as I'm sure you've encountered this before. But, to summarise: walk where you can, ride a bike where you can, or use public transport where you can - try to avoid using cars that aren't high up on the eco-friendly chain. Cars can be a big expense, but low-emission cars and green cars can be found on a budget too! Now, back to the small steps:

  1. Start with buying Second-Hand Products.

Now, some people don't particularly want to buy second-hand clothes (if you do - great!), but we're talking more about the bigger picture. For instance, if you want to buy a coffee machine or a blender, some second-hand websites like eBay or Vinted have some at great prices, that have barely been used (if at all!).


For any decor items, like frames, lights, containers or utensils, many people have Christmas gifts they don't want or a storage box they want to get rid of. Other great places to search can be Facebook Marketplace, or Depop.


Alternatively, you could shop from small affordable businesses that are sustainable - which you can find on Etsy.


Finding products from second-hand stores is useful in many ways. Not only are you helping someone else out financially, but you're also reducing waste. On a larger scale, when less people buy store-shelved products, less will be ordered and less will be made - ultimately reducing pollution and waste on a larger level!


2. Recycle and Upcycle


If you live in the UK, it is likely that since 2015 your local council has readapted the way they collect your bins. Often, you'll be asked to separate paper and cardboard from plastic and separate those from food waste and unrecyclable. This is something that you should continue to encourage yourself and others to do. Only 20% of plastic is recycled, and nearly a billion metric tons of food is wasted per year. Whilst waste is on the decline (Before 2019, only 7% of plastic was recycled each year), it is not nearly enough to beat the projection of waste tripling by the end of 2070. This is dangerous, as trash dumped in landfills (which is often the case), generates insane amounts of methane gas, which is pollutive to our environment, and the ozone layer which protects us from radiation.


So what can you do to reduce your household waste?


Firstly, keep recycling where you can.


Aside from that, small things like turning off the tap when you aren't actively using water (in-between teeth-brushing, or dishwashing) can help reduce water waste, which can be a pollutant risk to the environment and human health, can help reduce impacts of waste.


It's not about massive changes, but small things you can do and keep doing. Like building habits.


You could also use your food waste as compost if you have a garden.


Where you can try to buy biodegradable products or recyclable products. These can often be more expensive, but many options are the same price or cheaper. Examples can be bottled or boxed drinks, or reusable cups rather than disposable ones. You can take a brief look at the packaging - as companies are often proud to be sustainable.


However, a little research can go a long way. As a starting point, check here for apps you can use to find certified sustainable products, and examples of sustainable companies you can support.


Next, Upcycling.


This is different from recycling. Upcycling is more available than recycling, as it simply means taking a product and revamping it to make it better. You can continue to use old containers and bottles for different purposes, like storage or organisation. Other examples can be plastic spoons for bird feeders, or cans for naturally watering plants.


This process can take a little time out of your day, but it can also be a productive hobby. For families, it can also be a fun Sunday or Rainy Day project away from technology. It's creative, fun, and useful!


The best thing about upcycling is that the possibilities are limitless! You can create toys for your children and save an extra £20 at the store, or simply use something you can't really sell but don't use, for something else. One surprising idea is using old laundry baskets or jute ropes to make chandeliers and mirrors. This idea, and many others, can be found here!


Personally, I love upcycling. Buying or borrowing some glass paint from a neighbour and painting pretty glasses we found in my family's attic to make small singly flower vases, and then picking the flowers from the garden, is one of my favourite memories. You can also do this was jars (since we all love to collect the pretty ones with checkered lids!).


If you haven't tried upcycling in a while, it's strongly recommended. Not only does it help the environment and entertain the family, but it can also be quite therapeutic - and it's cheap!


3. Shop differently for small products and long-term products.


Items like milk, deli, and frozen meals can be swapped for little cost, allowing you to test alternative sustainable products. For example, buying a carton of Oat Milk that can be recycled, instead of a large bottle of cow's milk, can be more sustainable. It reduces the number of animal products you consume and reduces the use of plastic. Vegan cheese can be more challenging (believe me, cheese is difficult to give up) - but that doesn't mean you have to switch it!


A common misconception is that to eat more sustainably means you have to give a lot of things up. The reality is, you don't. If you prefer cows' cheese or real meat, no one can tell you not to buy it. What you can do, though, is check to see if the brand you're buying from is sustainable in the way they treat their animals and package their food.


According to reports by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, many brands, particularly meat and dairy brands, can cause 'serious pollution incidents', so a quick Google search to discover the 'best' brand can't hurt. Brands like Arla can be a great alternative to other brands and are available in most stores, but it's totally up to you! This is where the certifying apps can come in handy. You can also find out which plant-based alternatives taste the closest to the real products through Google, though for meat, it seems the 'Beyond Burger' can be the place to start.


In regard to long-term products, we're talking deodorants, shower products, hairbrushes, and clothes. Clothes can be difficult, especially when big businesses that generate more waste and unfair pay tend to be cheaper alternatives. Aside from second-hand shopping and restyling what you already own, there are affordable alternatives out there. For example, Boody is a sustainable and cheap alternative for all your clothing essentials, and CHNGE is great for eco-friendly fashion with a message.


Shoes can be a bit more difficult, but as I said, you don't have to change everything if you aren't able to, or if you simply prefer your long-lasting investment in Doc Martens, or like to live by the brand. Though, for your lowkey shoes, like work shoes, house shoes, or running shoes, you could try AllBirds.


For other products, using refillable sustainable deodorant (which is less than £5) or eco-friendly make-up can make all the difference. It may take a while to build up the habit, but it all starts with giving it a go!

Other options consist of bamboo utensils, like hairbrushes, toothbrushes, or homeware. This reduces your plastic use or the consumption of dyes.


4. Don't put pressure on yourself!


Now this, is the most important (and final) step in starting your more sustainable journey. The fact is, not everyone can afford to live completely sustainably - that's the way the World works. Some, may also just not want to give up their favourite products, or can't find a good alternative. That's okay too - the world is only just beginning its sustainable transition, so there's no rush on your end to change everything about your personal life.


The key things are to recognise and prevent inequalities and to do what you can. Check your finances to see what you can try, and give things a go. Being sustainable in the smallest of areas can make the biggest difference. If all you can do is recycle, and occasionally buy alternative milk because your kids won't drink anything else, then that's enough! If you think you can do more, do more. It's all down to you to decide.


My final advice is to think about it. If you could switch up meatballs for something plant-based (which also has more nutrients in it than meat!), or switch to differently packaged food, there's no harm in trying. If you're not sure you can afford sustainable make-up, but maybe could try sustainable deodorant, that's still a great step!


Starting now is better than later, and it will also give you an idea of how the World is progressing toward the SDGs since companies love to give updates each year on their improvement or certification. The Sustainable Development Revolution is upon us, so jump in and help make the World healthier and happier!


~ Good Luck!

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