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Categorize SDGs by Groups for More Impact

Sometimes, less is more.

Having 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be overwhelming and ineffective. The success of many of the goals is entirely dependent on the success of others, and to separate them individually distorts the reality of the interconnectedness of the goals. To make the SDGs more digestible, effective, and appealing, we propose condensing them into 6 Groups. By having the same amount of goals, but with manageable categorization, it will be easier to communicate specific visions of what needs to be done and how to do it.

Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the voluntary Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 to replace the 8 original Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs are ambitions regarding ending poverty, safeguarding the climate, and granting people peace and prosperity by 2030. They are integrated goals, meaning that they recognize that one action in a particular area will affect outcomes in others. However, despite being integrated in theory, presenting the SDGs as 17 goals is a poor communication tactic that reduces proper implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.

We must begin tracking SDG-impact by groups instead of by individual SDGs. When considering SDG-related impact for investors, philanthropists, academics, social entrepreneurs, and grassroots projects, it may prove more beneficial to move to a new tracking impact model using groupings of related goals.

Investors and enterprises are increasingly aligning their activities with the SDGs, but measuring impact proves elusive. Too many SDGs can be a barrier for many to understand what is needed and where they can have the most influence. To meaningfully integrate impacts of SDGs into operations, goals should be prioritized by topic rather than singular goals. This transition can serve to expedite the implementation of the SDGs.

By choosing to have a laundry list of 17 SDGs with 169 target indicators, some of which are contradictory to each other, we run the risk of losing legitimacy and stakeholders’ attention. Being presented with too many choices is usually not helpful for decision-making and promotes a lack of focus. We need to stop treating the SDGs as an idealistic wish list and demonstrate ways to make them genuine targets that are precise and measurable. We must balance ambition with viability.

If you make 17 things a top priority, many will look away and choose to ignore them altogether. The current SDGs are excessive and fail to cater to the fact that organizations, companies, and countries will all have differing capabilities. To remedy this issue, we should categorize the SDGs into complementary groups to gauge impact more effectively and holistically.

GROUP 1: REDUCING OVERALL INEQUALITY

Reducing inequalities within and among countries is entirely dependent on ending poverty, gaining food sovereignty, and ensuring that no one is left hungry. To eliminate poverty is to reduce hunger and, therefore, inequalities. Global rates of malnutrition are alarming, with nearly 700 million people undernourished and numbers expected to rise. To combat this, focusing on tackling poverty is the most critical step towards achieving SDG 2 and 3.

Stakeholders that choose this group can focus on one, two, or all of the individual goals while measuring the impact their action has on the group as a whole.

GOAL 1: No poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
GOAL 2: Zero hunger
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
GOAL 10: Reduced inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries

Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations Group 1
Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations Group 2

GROUP 2: ACCESS TO SAFE CONDITIONS

Good health and wellbeing are entirely dependent on eliminating pollution.

Clean water, sanitation, and clean energy that is affordable are crucial to achieving SDG 3 and reducing premature death. Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion killed over 8 million in 2018, causing increased disease rates, and decreased quality of life. Water pollution caused 1.8 million deaths in 2015 and still contributes to an astounding amount of illness each year. To promote good health and well-being, we must reduce death and contamination of the air and water by shifting away from using chemicals, plastic, and pollutants to implementing affordable infrastructure that promotes clean water and energy. By eliminating fossil fuel use, we can also reduce petrochemicals, oil spills, and contaminated wastewater that pollute our planet.

Stakeholders that choose this group can focus on one, two, or all of the individual goals while measuring the impact their action has on the group as a whole.

GOAL 3: Good health and well being
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
GOAL 6: Clean water and sanitation
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
GOAL 7: Affordable and clean energy
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all

GROUP 3: SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

Strong institutions are necessary to enforce sustainable development and protect human rights. Achieving justice requires an emphasis on sustainable growth and the right to work for industries that promote safe conditions. Economic growth cannot come at the expense of peace and social justice. Access to reliable and accessible infrastructure is key to resilient, inclusive, and sustainable societies.

Stakeholders that choose this group can focus on one, two, or all of the individual goals while measuring the impact their action has on the group as a whole.

GOAL 8: Decent work and economic growth
Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all
GOAL 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
GOAL 16: Peace, justice, and strong institutions
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels

Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations Group 3
Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations Group 4

GROUP 4: EQUALITY THROUGH EDUCATION

Gender equality cannot be achieved without ensuring quality education for all women and girls around the world. Equal access to education is central to fostering the rights of women. While there have been gains for women and girls regarding education access, there are still far too many failed by the system. Enrollment numbers that give the illusion of gender equality are not good enough, but rather it is the quality of education provided that is key. Women and girls enrolled in school must be free of gender-based violence and be given tailored education to ensure their safety and prosperity.

Stakeholders that choose this group can focus on one or both of these individual goals while measuring the impact their action has on them as a whole.

GOAL 4: Gender equality
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
GOAL 5: Quality education
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

GROUP 5: SUSTAINABLE PARTNERSHIPS

Cities and communities must protect each other, collaborate, and form partnerships to ensure sustainable development and ethical consumption/production across borders. We can use collective natural resources sustainably and streamline supply chains through networks of resilient and safe cities and communities. This collaboration can work to promote fair trade, multi-stakeholder partnerships, strengthen voluntary commitments, and enhance capacity development.

Stakeholders that choose this group can focus on one, two, or all of the individual goals while measuring the impact their action has on the group as a whole.

GOAL 11: Sustainable cities and communities
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
GOAL 12: Responsible consumption and production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the goals
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations Group 5
Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations Group 6

GROUP 6: HOLISTIC CLIMATE ACTION

Climate action encompasses protecting all life below water, as well as all life on land. To meaningfully mitigate the effects of climate change, we must understand that all of our human, ecological, and planetary systems are interconnected and therefore cannot be separated from each other. By working to take urgent action on climate change, we must use our water sources respectfully to ensure not only human survival but the survival of all marine ecosystems and resources. Climate action is additionally highly dependent on using our common land resources sustainably while working to restore and protect what has already been degraded.

Stakeholders that choose this group can focus on one, two, or all of the individual goals while measuring the impact their action has on the group as a whole.

GOAL 13: Climate action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
GOAL 14: Life below water
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
GOAL 15: Life on land
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

The article was written and shared with permission by Katharine Poole and Anna Campbell.

Authors Bios

Katharine Poole is a climate change specialist and science communicator with an M.A. in Climate and Society from Columbia University. She has experience designing curriculums and teaching climate policy at Climatepedia and Columbia University.

Anna Campbell is an environmental enthusiast and community leader with an MBA in International Business. She is a serial entrepreneur and nonprofit leader passionate about leaving her planet better than she found it. Her current role as Executive Director with the Abundant Earth Foundation provides the unique opportunity of tracking the ever-evolving positive impact from grassroots leaders to national and global funders eager to participate in environmental and social equity projects.

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