Sustainable Development Goals

5 Priority UN Sustainable Development Goals for Company Action in 2021

Article | February 2, 2021

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) member states launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end global poverty, advance health and education, reduce inequality, protect the environment, and accelerate economic growth. Countries worldwide, in partnership with the private sector, are coordinating action to achieve the UN SDGs by 2030. For companies, the SDGs present a significant opportunity to align corporate sustainability goals with global priorities, to enhance co-investment, collective action, and impact.

Yet, with 17 ambitious goals and more than 100 sub-goals, it can be hard for companies to know which SDGs to support. Where to start? Certainly, a company will be guided by its own supply chain sustainability challenges and impact goals. But we’d also argue that some SDGs are particularly suited for private sector co-investment and collaboration—either because they are inextricably linked to global supply chains or because they simply cannot be achieved without cross-sector engagement. And then there’s the moment we’re living in now: COVID-19 has heightened the urgency of certain key SDGs, making it clear that immediate and aggressive cross-sector action is needed for global recovery and stability.

As companies look to make a difference in 2021 and beyond, we have identified 5 high-priority UN Sustainable Development Goals where the private sector can partner with governments, donors, NGOs and communities to have a lasting impact and drive business value. We’ve selected these SDGs based on their urgency in this present moment, their impact on the private sector, and the extent to which cross-sector collaboration is needed to meaningfully move the needle.

5 Priority Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Company Action and Cross-Sector Collaboration

1. Partner to Expand Health Access

SDG 3.8: Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.

As the EU, US, China and other wealthy countries roll out their COVID-19 vaccination programs, developing countries face significant challenges in accessing and paying for vaccines.  Here, companies can partner with host governments and donors to pool resources to negotiate vaccine purchases, create viable distribution channels, and license production in emerging markets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Whether you are an employer, an investor, or are sourcing in emerging markets, supporting vaccination is a critical way to help countries and their citizens get back on their feet. It’s also essential step toward economic recovery and the resilience of global supply chains.

2. Partner to Extend Internet Access and Bridge the Digital Divide 

SDG 9.c: Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.  

COVID-19 laid bare the importance of broadband Internet for enabling people to work, educate their children, and access critical health information. However, nearly half the world’s population is without Internet access. Technology companies, telecommunications operators, donors, and development finance institutions must work together to bridge the digital divide and ensure universal Internet access. This is an area of considerable cross-sector interest and private sector opportunity.

3. Partner to Boost the Resilience, Sustainability, and Productivity of Agricultural Systems

SDG 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.  

2020 saw a severe increase in food insecurity, with COVID-19 disrupting global and domestic food supply chains and curbing food production. This has exacerbated the failings of an already unstable system: climate change will continue to wreak havoc on global agricultural supply chains. Only together can companies, governments, and farmers create more resilient, stable, and productive agricultural systems. This will require pre-competitive and cross-sector partnership to co-develop and scale new agricultural solutions and innovations.

4. Partner to Reduce Food Waste and Post-Harvest Losses

SDG 12.3: By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.  

Food waste is an enormous contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, represents a tremendous opportunity for reducing emissions and enhancing food security. It is an enormously complicated problem that requires changes to industry practices, consumer behavior and government policy to fix. This is an area primed for private sector leadership in 2021, especially with more and more companies embracing circular economy principles for the future of food.

5. Partner to Combat Inequality and Promote Equal Opportunity

SDG 10.3: Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard. 

The struggle for racial and social justice dominated the headlines for much of 2020.  Here, large employers as well as industry and professional associations have an opportunity to have an impact by supporting legislative and policy efforts designed to end discrimination and reduce inequality. In 2021, we also see significant opportunity for companies to diversify their supply chains and partner to empower the communities they work with and for.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Is a Market Opportunity

Meeting the ambitious goals of the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will not be easy—it will require sustained investment and extensive collaboration.  However, the SDGs are also a major business opportunity.  The UN has identified more than $12 trillion in market opportunities for the private sector in making the SDGs a reality.  By focusing and partnering on high-priority SDGs, companies can both have a greater impact and be better positioned to realize the business opportunities that stem from making the world more sustainable, prosperous and equitable.

Is your company interested in learning more about how to align supply chain sustainability objectives with the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Or are you looking to identify or develop an SDG partnership opportunity? Reach out to Steve to discuss further.

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If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.