You’ll be hearing a lot of noise about the Sustainable Development Goals soon, as we approach the SDG Summit for world leaders in New York on 18-19 September. The Summit will mark the halfway point to the 2030 deadline set for achieving the goals.
Halfway in time, so we should be halfway in progress. However, we’re not even close. The clock is ticking and we’re desperately behind. Why should those in the food and drink sector care, and what can we do about it?
The SDGs are a set of interlinked, global goals that together will deliver a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world, and are the successor to the 2015 Millennial Development Goals (MDGs). The Global North mostly left the Global South to it when it came to the MDGs, conveniently ignoring our colonial past. Crucially, the SDGs differ in that they are universal. All countries have a responsibility and a duty to play their part – especially those in the Global North. There is no development without sustainability, and we need to play catch-up.
While some of the goals are more obviously related to food or farming, such as ‘Zero Hunger’, in reality all are linked. The agri-food sector is the primary driver of biodiversity loss and responsible for up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and thus central to the goals ‘Life on Land’ and ‘Climate Action’. As diet-related ill health concerns grow, food is critical for the ‘Good Health & Wellbeing’ goal too. The more you look, the more you realise none of the SDGs can be achieved without food system change.
What can food and drink businesses do? Start by asking questions. Interrogate the 17 goals and ask whether you are supporting or hindering progress. Take Goal 2 for example: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Do your products prioritise nutrition over empty calories? Do you pay staff a decent wage, so they can afford to buy decent food? Are your supply chains complicit in taking land from subsistence farmers overseas?
The SDGs force us to think globally as well as locally, and this is important. Complex food supply chains impact people, animals and land around the world – for better or for worse. Don’t offshore your impacts. Whether you’re based only in the UK or are a multinational, adopt an internationalist mindset.
It’s not too late to align your company’s sustainability and social targets with the SDGs. In fact, it would be strange not to. Doing so has lots of benefits, including having consistent metrics and a shared sense of purpose. I wouldn’t expect smaller businesses to map to every individual SDG indicator. Take a pragmatic approach, like the Chefs’ Manifesto, a framework developed by chefs that aligns with the SDGs, but sets out practical actions in eight key areas.
The latest UN ‘Halftime for the Global Goals’ film ignites a hopeful and excited spirit. Let’s remember: this is about building a thriving future. A person, a company, a sector, a country and a world can do a lot of good in seven years. We need to stock up on oranges for the halftime talk.