Bringing the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to life!
How do we bring the SDG alive? To start exploring this question, I would like to draw our attention to a brilliant Tedx Talk done by Prof. Patrick Walsh last year during a Tedx event in Dublin:
Through this blogpost I’ve highlighted some of the bits of his presentation I thought were most relevant in terms of evidencing how the SDGs are not meant to be seen as something left to governments and/or international organisms only, but rather as an invitation for us all to take a pledge and action towards a more sustainable, equal and fair future, one thing at a time.
Let us start then with the vision behind the SDG Agenda:
“Imagine a world free of poverty, where people work in peace and partnership to deliver a shared prosperity in harmony with nature”
According to Prof. Patrick Walsh, this is how people gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development described “the future we want”.
Out of the negotiations of Rio 2012, the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was born: “a moral compass for the world, for the 21st century; (…) a blueprint that outlines pathways to sustainable livelihoods, inclusive society and sustainable environments” (Walsh, P, 2016). Walsh describes this agenda as “truly of the people, for the people, by the people”, as its creation involved participants from all over the world, and a significant variety of organisations and groups representing a broad spectrum of interests.
The 17 sustainable development goals
In a nutshell, the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda consists of 17 sustainable development goals, covering a range of aspects of human and non human quality of life (one could argue this distinction is unnecessary given that ‘quality of life’ as such relies on both human and non-human’s health at a systemic level): from tackling poverty, sanitation, energy, equality, education, climate change, healthy ecosystems, sustainable economic growth and human rights made accessible to all by the year 2030. Yes, ok, but… how?
Patrick Walsh paints the SDG vision very practically, in a very ‘down to earth’ way, I find:
“Households everywhere will have access to basic nutrition, education, health. They will not face general discrimination. They will have access to clear water, sanitation, and sustainable energy.
Companies across all countries will provide jobs for all, and when they invest, they will invest in sustainable societies and sustainable environments in addition to getting a decent return in capital.”
What are these goals trying to address?
In his TEDx talk, Walsh describes how, during the negotiations that gave birth to these principles, representatives from all religions, scientists and economists agreed that the general root cause of all problems this agenda was to tackle was HARM:
"The HARM we inflict on each other, and The HARM we inflict on nature”
These goals and future vision of an idyllic world, although inspiring, beg the question of how they will become a tangible reality, in only 13 years from now, given the state of the world today. It is easy (for me at least), to fall into the cynicism of seeing them as unrealistic, and shutting down any chance of allowing them to see the light of day. But if we go back to the ethos behind them - according to Walsh - although the design of this agenda was global, the implementation of it is, in principle, local and even individual: ‘a global vision for local action’ as he suggests.
“They need 7 billion people in their team, if this agenda is going to work”, says Patrick Walsh in relation to how the success of the goals set for 2030 cannot be achieved by macro institutions only, but require the local, public and private action of each individual. So there is hope. And there is room for agency, action and impact in each one of us.
“In your home, review your energy use; think about your food and waste management. Ask yourselves, my pensions and savings in the bank, where are they invested? Ask yourself, what is my carbon and water footprint? Should I eat less, eat less processed food? Should I eat less meat? (…)
We are all part of companies. We buy their products, we are either employees, or shareholders, or part of their boards. They should be part of this agenda. (…) Are they undertaking research and product development that is socially inclusive and environmentally responsible? (…)
We all take part in theatres, and music and sports. We are all in schools and universities. They should be part of the agenda too.”
“The snowflake never wants to take responsibility for when the avalanche goes”, says Walsh. Yes, that’s partly true probably. But although we live in pressing times, times when we need to turn the current tide in a completely different direction if we want to give ourselves and this planet any chance, Patrick Walsh’s message reinforces how, in the end, it is the action of individuals that lead to a collective outcome.
I believe this is what the definition of alive human beings and organisations in the 21st century should incorporate; the caring for oneself and for others, to sustain life as a whole, through generative ways of being, living and operating on a daily basis.
If we were to ask ourselves, how does this action or decision I make, as a household manager, as a functional leader in an organisation, as a worker, student or retiree, impact on my own wellbeing and the wellbeing of my immediate surroundings, could we then open up the possibility for more ecologically conscious behaviour? How can I do less HARM to others and nature, through my daily, habitual tasks and chores?
I find these empowering invitations, filled with possibility, which is, as Patrick Walsh reads in the words of George B Shaw,
“You see things and you say WHY, but I dream things that never were and I say WHY NOT?”
Founder of Ecoed, an initiative that aims at raising awareness and driving cultural change towards more sustainable ways of living, through fun, alternative, engaging ways.
Find out more at: www.ecoedgame.com
Did you know about the 17 sustainable development goals? How about sticking them somewhere close by where you and your family can see them and reflect on them daily?
What action can you take, as small as it may seem, now, after reading this blogpost, to contribute to this 2030 vision of a sustainable future for all?
Return to the Ecoed Blog