One way to tackle daunting, seemingly impossible, challenges is to break them down into manageable “chunks” and share-out responsibility for these among a large number of willing and qualified people. Such is it with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by 198 governments in September 2015 and which comprise some 17 goals and 169 targets, mapping out a routeway for the world community to 2030.
Action to address these targets is being picked-up by partnerships of governments, companies, international organizations and civil society working from the local to global levels. In effect, it’s a type of large scale crowd-sourcing exercise and certainly one that is unparalleled in its ambition to eliminate extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet in just 13 years.
To make progress toward the targets many of these programs and partnerships need information, tools, organization and funding which will come from hundreds, or more likely, tens of thousands of sources. Voluntary sustainability standards represent one set of ready-made tools and platforms that can help business take positive steps towards several of the 2030 targets. And do so in a way that supports many millions of small-holder farmers, fishing communities and forest owners improve their standards of living, while satisfying growing consumer demands for more ethical products.
The Report provides examples of results that have already been achieved towards the Goals for food security, health, gender equality, water management, decent work, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, life undersea and on land, and for partnership.
Voluntary standards are of course no “silver bullet”. They are only one means to make progress and ultimately governments and businesses will need to combine these with many other efforts and measures. Still they can be employed efficiently by businesses at every link in the value chain – enabling producers, harvesters and processors to achieve a recognized level of sustainability, and traders, manufacturers and retailers to address the impacts of their supply chains. In doing so, they contribute across a number of SDGs.
As well as helping tackle challenges described by the SDGs, the use of voluntary standards generally align well with business interests in many sectors. Indeed at their best they allow companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, anticipate increasing consumer demand for new products, secure access to needed resources and increase the value of their brands.
By providing a way to link economic interests with contributing to the SDG agenda, the chances of attracting more people to get involved should increase. In this way voluntary standards can help generate a few of the many, many hands that will be needed to achieve the SDG goals over the coming 13 years.