• London Structures Lab

ALIGNING YOUR PRACTICE WITH THE UNITED NATIONS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS

In 2015 the United Nations began the process of negotiating a new agenda to replace its Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s). The 8 MDG’s were criticised for several reasons, including a lack of strong objectives, insufficient focus on environmental issues, and a general lack of emphasis on inequalities. In September 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development World Summit the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) were adopted, with an agenda of meeting the goals and their specific targets by 2030.

The 17 goals are summarised as follows;



Each goal has a number of associated targets, which are typically quantitative rather than qualitative, creating 169 specific targets in total. There is significant crossovers between goals, and focused progress in one area can lead to advancement with another.


Each year the UN produces a report on progress, the 2019 version can be found here.

UN Member states are also encouraged to undertake Voluntary National Reviews which are led by individual countries – the intention is that valuable experiences and lessons learned can be shared. The UK report can be found here.


In October 2018 the Institution of Civil Engineers hosted the Global Engineering Congress with the aim of sharing ideas of how our industry can address the UN SDG’s. This resulted in establishing working groups which include the task of establishing a framework that allows measurement of the SDG impact of a project. Currently the aim is to deliver such a framework by 2021.


In the meantime, there does not appear to be any universal or open source method for any company within the construction industry to measure their performance against the SDG’s. There are many excellent examples of larger companies who have developed their own systems for assessment, and there are very encouraging signs that this is becoming more widespread within our industry.


Many practices appear to be signing up for Engineers Declare (or likewise with other disciplines) and are hopefully comfortable with the commitments being made there. This is an exceptionally good start, and it relates well to the three SDG’s which are most directly relevant to our industry (9,11 and 12), but if like us your goal is contribution against all 17, there is still a long way to go.


For smaller companies, the task of trying to map your business against the SDG’s can at first seem quite intimidating – having gone through this process here at London Structures Lab, we wanted to share some valuable resources we have found, and also some of the insights the process has led us to.


Firstly, a couple of useful links;


The PWC SDG Selector is a great starting point for any organisation regardless of the Industry or sector within. It allows the user to define one of four criteria – Industry Impact, Industry Opportunity, Territory and Theme, and then highlights which SDG’s are directly related to the selection.


An exceptionally useful resource we have found for addressing all 17 SDG’s is the Bioregional document ‘Build a better future with the Sustainable Development Goals – A practical guide for construction and property companies’. As well as providing a great deal of useful information about the SDG’s and their importance, the document focuses on providing sample responses to some of the targets from each SDG. All SDG’s are covered, but the document proposes that for our industry 56 of the 169 targets are things we can influence in our day to day work. Depending on your discipline or where you sit within Client/Contractor/Designer not all of the sample responses will be relevant, but even where they are not, they may provide avenues of thought to something that is. Sample responses are divided between ‘Upstream and downstream operations’ and ‘Internal business operations’.


We have based our business SDG mapping on an approach similar to that proposed by Bioregional, and in most cases have defined how we will respond to each target externally – through our collaborations and the product that we produce, and internally – through the values we promote and the behaviours we uphold in the running of our practice.


As a new practice we have been undertaking the process of mapping the SDG’s against our work and internal processes at the same time as trying to establish our core values and idealised office culture. What has become clear is that these two things have so much crossover that they are almost becoming one and the same – being responsible in what we do and striving to always be fair.


It may be that younger practices forged in an era where we are more aware than ever of inequality, will forgo the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ bolt on policy, in favour of a culture which is among other things primarily altruistic, and find this is exactly the driver at the heart of the SDG’s.


By simply doing what most of us would uphold to be the right thing, it should be possible for our industry to play a meaningful role in achieving the goals, without incurring any additional cost to clients or funders, and in the process enriching our companies and working lives.