UN Sustainable Development Goals

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals: For the Common Good

As a philosophy, the notion of the ‘common good’ dates back to ancient Greek philosophers as well as Enlightenment-era thinkers theorizing how an ideal society should strategically shape the communal welfare of all. This philosophy has influenced hundreds of years of social reforms, government policy and economic development. Toward the end of the 20th century, the United Nations (UN) worked to establish international objectives relating to economic development and environmental sustainability. In the commission’s forward-thinking 1987 report entitled “Our Common Future,” sustainable business practices became linked to achieving the greater mission of the common good.

Achieving the UN SDGs

Thirty years later, the findings were revisited and codified into the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Truly international in scope, these 17 objectives would accelerate sustainable development through an unconventional combination of policy, NGO support and the innovation of a global, digital economy. It was time that the private sector reimagined a visionary and transformative future through sustainable development.

One of the initial concerns about the UN SDGs is that they advocate for economic growth alongside sustainability and social impact improvement. Many economic commentators have considered this a paradoxical issue; however, businesses that center sustainability and social impact as a central part of their business model could be a way forward. Sustainable development through social impact business has great potential to foster profitability and the common good side-by-side. Businesses of any size were encouraged by the UN to consider how core business functions affected the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to adjust their practices to be more sustainable and ignite positive social change before 2030. In addition to businesses, other organizations such as higher education institutions shaped their curriculums and campus operations to also influence these Sustainable Development Goals and begin contributing to the common good.

What is Needed to Achieve Sustainable Development?

While collective commitment to adjusting core business functions is one aspect of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there are also an abundance of practical solutions needed to achieve sustainable development, including a focus on core business functions, systemic change in particularly harmful industries and a broader consideration of risk management

One brilliant difference of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is their emphasis on core business functions. Many metrics related to corporate social responsibility and sustainability focus on factors related to corporate philanthropy or “greenwashing” tactics designed to change public perception about a company, which are unlikely to bring about the influential change needed to

make sustainable development serve the mission of the common good. 

Tangible steps that connect the company’s interest with sustainable development measures include: 

  • Participating in circular supply chains, where materials are most efficiently recycled so that minimal virgin material is used, which reduces waste and costs 
  • Taking a precautionary risk management approach to environmental damages, sparing the company from costly legal battles and public relations issues 
  • Labor practices that do not harm the workforce or the environment that they live in which ensures a stable, healthy labor pool 
  • Considering the social impact of investments or partnerships alongside their profitability, which is prudent risk management 

Achieving the UN SDGs will require more investment, more innovative technology, and most importantly strong leadership ready to shape core business functions to be more focused on the common good. By inciting authentic and systemic change, the business sector will lead the way forward in achieving sustainable development.

Industry-Specific Sustainability Overhaul

Another advancement that will contribute to achieving the UN SDGs is the coordinated overhaul of certain industries that particularly have been known to avoid sustainable development in the past. One example is the fashion industry—a multi-trillion dollar industry employing over 60 million people worldwide. By taking it upon themselves to embrace sustainable fashion measures, companies will be able to accelerate change in a way that contributes to the common good while also offering new avenues for profitability. 

One inventive example is lyocell and modal fabrics like TENCEL sourced from wood chips, a common waste product from other industries. These new fibers are designed to replace or supplement polyester fibers often made from fossil fuels. Best of all, this sustainable new fiber is more breathable than its plasticky predecessors, an ingenious development that both environmentalists and consumers have welcomed. By utilizing the Sustainable Development Goals as a common reference point and responsibly collaborating as an industry, there is a missional opportunity to further the common good and promote sustainable development in every economic sector.

Competitive Advantage through Risk Management

Finally, achieving sustainable development will be brought about by business leadership incited by a complex global economy to act in their own best interests. Companies that actively pursue sustainability measures will be better insulated from all types of financial risk including the effects of climate change, pollution or future political unrest. Sustainable business practices will likely become one of the most effective risk management strategies of the 21st century. 

Proactively reacting to sustainability issues has been linked to businesses having a competitive advantage with investors and consumers alike. Having business leadership who have in-depth experience and access to applied research examining sustainable business practices is the next step forward to achieving sustainable development.

Master’s Degrees Fostering Sustainability-Focused Leadership

When GCNYC was established by Glasgow Caledonian University, we put forth a disruptive mission to always consider the Common Good. Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals, GCNYC’s leading-edge master’s degree curriculum revolutionizes its students’ careers through a focus on applied research, leadership skills and a pragmatic consideration of sustainable business. 

Glasgow Caledonian New York College offers master’s degrees in Business for Social Impact and Sustainability; Sustainable Fashion; and Risk, Resilience and Integrity Management. All of our future-minded programs are offered in a 100% online format or through evening classes at our SoHo Manhattan campus.

Become the Sustainable Business Leader of Tomorrow!

While the Sustainable Development Goals are set to expire in 2030, achieving sustainable development extends beyond meeting these UN standards. Entrepreneurial frontrunners thoughtfully balancing the common good alongside profitability will determine the future of business.

To successfully unlock the benefits of sustainable development, companies require visionary leaders to welcome new challenges and conceive new best practices that will spark economic development and ultimately all contribute to the common good. 

Learn more about advancing your career with a sustainability-focused graduate degree from GCNYC. At Glasgow Caledonian New York College, our youthful institution is grounded in a distinguished commitment to our Common Good mission and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.