Engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals as an SME

By: Talwyn Whetter

As a sustainability professional in a medium-sized organisation, setting aside time to engage meaningfully with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been challenging. As one of the ‘engaged’, and as a Senior Manager with a strong remit to deliver sustainability into our organisation, I want to connect these to my organisation, but have struggled to do this in a meaningful or practical way.

After attending the inaugural UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) conference in April 2016, I came away with a renewed sense of interest in the SDGs. The conference was a timely and inspiring reminder that the SDGs are a ‘call to action’ for the business community.

Large organisations often have the ability to dedicate resources towards running committed corporate social responsibility departments, which can spend time looking at the SDGs and other sustainability issues on a full-time basis. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are unlikely to have the same opportunity, but although this is challenging, it can also be advantageous.

So after the UKSSD Conference, we’ve developed an SDG approach for Sysdoc based on the following principles:
1 – We don’t need to do it all at once
Identify the goals you want to achieve in relation to where your business has the biggest negative impact. Focus on those in the first instance. This doesn’t need to be a detailed academic exercise, and you should be able to quickly identify the top two or three areas that relate to your business.
2 – Prioritise actions (and indicators) and set a one-year target
The SDGs are due to be achieved in the next 14 years - who knows what will happen in your business over this time? A bite-sized approach that reviews and adapts your targets on a year by year basis allows you to be focussed and responsive to changes in your business.
3 – Engage teams only as much as you need to
You don’t need to invest a lot of time and effort in sharing the full SDG story and approach – by focussing on one or two big impact items you can perfect your messages and improve specific business outcomes. That doesn’t mean not talking about the SDGs, but given SMEs generally have limited resources you should look at how to build key themes into your day to day business. Bigger picture communications can just leverage existing SDG material.
4 – Monitor the programme throughout the year, and repeat
We might spend the next 14 years concentrating on one topic, or we might cover every SDG over that time. The point is that our business is on a journey and improvements in one area means we can shift our focus to other goals and when we are ready.

So, on reflection, SMEs are ideally placed to answer the UKSSDs call to action. While large organisations can put aside time and personnel, it doesn’t mean the SDGs are any easier to implement - a major factor is getting your team to actually deliver on this sustainability, something that SMEs can actually get closer to and more quickly affect organisational change.

As an entrepreneurial business, Sustainability sits at the top layer of Sysdoc, and our size means that I can influence the way we work at a very fundamental level – through our Finance, Procurement, Operations and Service Delivery workstream.

It seems obvious, really – but the proof will be in the delivery of this approach. At Sysdoc I am going to champion the SDGs, challenging the way we do business and seeking opportunities that prove SMEs can really take a leading role in delivering them.


Images from the UN Sustainable Development Goals Resource Centre. http://www.globalgoals.org/resource-centre/the-basics/ 


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