Implementing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Are we DOING enough?

By Nitesh Dullabh

April 11, 2019

“The people of the world have asked us to shine a light on a future of promise and opportunity. Member States have responded with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development… It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms. An agenda for the planet, our common home. An agenda for shared, prosperity, peace and partnership.” (UN Secretary General – Ban Ki Moon, 2015)

 What are the SDGs?

One has to firstly acknowledge that “Sustainability” in one form or another is becoming “a to-do activity” in many private, public and NGO institutions. This acknowledgment starts with the awareness of looking at ourselves, the people that we interact with, the environment that we live in, and the type of impact that we want to make. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles are known by sustainability practitioners and others, however their impacts have not been fully recognized. We now have a new opportunity, an opportunity to reframe our understanding of SUSTAINABILITY with a responsibility in doing this.

In September 2015 all 193 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously agreed to an ambitious plan:

Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the 2030 Agenda)

The 2030 Agenda is a plan of action for people, the planet and long-term prosperity. The 2030 Agenda established 17 SDGs and 169 global targets, relating to development outcomes, for the period 2015–2030. These were designed to be integrative so as to bring balance in the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Below is a representation of the 17 goals. More information can be found on the SDG Knowledge Platform. 


SDGs and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The SDGs have prompted us to think bigger, and broaden our traditional CSR ambitions, thus having a wider and deeper sustainable development plan and program of action. SDGs as a global agenda serves as a reference framework that can support both private and public entities in improving their CSR engagement in a way that contributes to sustainable development and their respective impact.

Empirical research finds that some of the benefits institutions (public and private) have with higher CSR intensity include:

  • Higher stock returns
  • Better performance in terms of profitability and reputation
  • Greater trust from and with customers, stakeholders and shareholders alike
  • Consensus on a common set of goals around which multiple stakeholders rally and built partnerships

So the question I am asking is are we DOING enough on implementing the SDGs in our institutions?

According to a 2017 report by the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence, “North America has proved to have a low level of engagement with only 6.2% of companies implementing SDGs in their reports. Also, not all SDGs are equally represented in the reports and only 6% of the companies have integrated all the 17 SDGs in their reports”.  Source: Sustainability Reporting Trends in North America, 2017

A recent 2018 PwC study on SDGs where 729 companies, across 21 territories and 6 broad industry groups were surveyed, it was found that in the US 69% mentioned SDGs in their reports, only 9% of the CEO’s mentioned it in their Chair reporting and there were no companies that had a separate integrated report on the SDGs. Source: PwC SDG Reporting Challenge

I sincerely believe that we are NOT doing enough to bring the SDGs to our boardrooms and to our sustainability agendas. So what can be done?

A few pointers:

·  Get an understanding of the SDGs and what they stand for

·  Introduce the concept to your leadership teams with the emphasis on the potential ESG and financial and reputational benefits

· Introduce the concept to your functional and support supply chains in your institution

·  Develop a road map on how best to implement the SDGs

· Prioritize which SDG goals work best for you and your institution

·  Develop a set of key of measurable goals and indicators for each of the SDGs selected

·  Develop an internal and external communication plan

·  Report on the impact that is been created through an integrated reporting plan

Concluding Remarks

The SDGs contain a universally agreed-upon and delimited set of sustainable development issues. They fully acknowledge the integrated and systematic nature of sustainable development issues. Not all of the 17 SDGs will be equally important to your institution. Your institution will choose goals that are relevant for its growth, development and impact. Therefore, it makes good common and business sense to take a strategic approach and align your priorities with the relevant SDGs. In this way you will better engage and transact with your customers, employees, vendors, and local and international stakeholders.

The key objective is to create POSITIVE IMPACT. The practice of disclosing sustainability information inspires accountability, helps identify and manage risks, and enables organizations to seize new opportunities. The business benefits of doing so can include: access to new markets; stabilizing and strengthening markets of current or future operations; and of course, enhanced reputation and stakeholder relations. Every part of the organization has a role to play – it is not just a CSR issue. Leadership is key – CEOs and senior executives need to take an active interest in driving progress and in believing in the process.

About the Author:

Nitesh calls himself a water diplomat because of a prior career as a South African diplomat and because he also has a strong affiliation to UN Sustainable Development Goal 6, Water and Sanitation. Having been part of Nelson Mandela’s government post 1994, Nitesh was in the national department of trade and industry developing bilateral and multilateral policy to do business in Asia. This led him to serve as an economic attaché in Beijing and Shanghai for almost 5 years. His interests in economic development and sustainability continued as he then led a team of professionals in a provincial agency in South Africa. After a number of years in the public sector, Nitesh then turned his attention to scenario planning and risk management where he joined a US company in South Africa to focus on enterprise & value chain risk management and governance. His consulting experience continued when he was offered to head-up an international consulting practice in South Africa.

In the US, Nitesh has been involved in a number of startups. He was a VP, shared services for a finance company that focused on alternative asset classes. This led him to another fin-tech startup that focused on developing an online platform for SBA loans. His interests in sustainability and impact then focused on water and wastewater management. He completed a recent pilot study on indirect potable reuse with Stanford, City of Palo Alto and few consulting firms. He has been assisting companies in developing their water reuse strategies and creating marketing channels for product and service distribution. More recently, Nitesh has been involved in developing SDG road maps for local and international companies, assisting them in prioritizing the SDG goals and implementing them with his clients.

Nitesh has a public administration degree with majors in public administration, political science and industrial psychology. He then completed honors and masters’ degrees in International Relations from Rhodes University in South Africa, and then an MBA from Henley Management College (University of Reading in the UK). His most notable leadership award was the Archbishop Tutu fellowship award. Nitesh’s affiliations include the following:

  • 2017 – Board member of Water Reuse Association (CA Chapter), USA
  • 2017 – Member of American Water Works Association (AWWA), USA
  • 2016 – Member of Water Reuse Association (WRA) and the Water Research Foundation (WRF)
  • 2012 – Board member of the Palo Alto Community Fund, USA

Nitesh lives in Palo Alto and is married with two children. He is currently studying the enneagram.

For more information I can be contacted at:

Nitesh Dullabh

+1 650 704 0737




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