How an organization can avoid SDG-washing. Yes, it is a thing…

In a recent trip overseas, I was part of a panel discussion where each panelist was to share innovations and thought leadership on environmental stewardship.  As per usual, each one put up a slide about the SDGs, said that their product/solution supported them, and then went on to talk about what their service or product is. Out of curiosity, I asked them afterward how they support the SDGs and the responses were vague.  In short, they were not supporting the SDGs. They wanted to look as if they were.

This is what is referred to as “SDG-washing” (similar to greenwashing) and can be best described as when an organization only acknowledges the SDGs or the business makes it a point to say that they are “in support of” or “in line with” the SDGs; but fail to make a meaningful link to how they are specifically contributing to their realization. It happens all the time.

To be fair, the SDGs do not have a reliable roadmap for a single organization to follow, and they address symptoms and not the root cause of any one issue.   This is where the private sector needs to take the baton and run.

Here is how to do it:

Step 1. Understand what your business does and which SDGs you believe you can support directly through your work.

  • What products and services do you offer?
  • How are they developed?
  • Who is in your supply chain and what are their practices
  • What are your collective social and environmental impacts?

Step 2. Perform a P5 Impact Analysis on your work to understand what impacts and opportunities exist. (Our P5 and Tools are free)

P5 table

Note that while P5 is designed for projects, it applies to all forms of work. Download it here

Step 3. Review the targets and goals of the SDG and review them against your impact assessment.

This connects the dots between what you do and how you can align with the SDGs. Your P5 Impact Assessment will provide the risk factors which you can then assess against SDG targets.  Once you have done this, you can establish KPIs as part of a sustainability management plan (SMP).

analysisPerforming these actions, you will develop measures to take to ensure any potential negative impacts can be mitigated. For example:

  • Identify and comply with any relevant laws and regulations.
  • Work to achieve a net positive impact (NPI) on biodiversity by ensuring that any negative impacts from the project are outweighed by biodiversity gains from conservation projects in the same region.
  • Hold suppliers and their supply chains to the same standards.

Step 4. Develop KPIs based on the outcomes of the analysis and the targets and goals you have reviewed.

Protection of biological diversity helps to achieve the following  outcomes, and as a result of our efforts, we can ensure:

  • Healthy ecosystems that protect food, fiber, medicines, and other potential resources.
  • Future access to land and other natural resources.
  • Improved reputation among regulators and within local communities that are dependent on biodiversity in the areas that the project affects.
  • The continued availability of ecosystem services such as atmospheric regulation, nutrient cycling, and pollination.

Step 5. Communicate your findings and actions with your stakeholders

Let your partners, suppliers, customers know what actions you are taking and how they support the SDGs or publish a sustainability report!

It isn’t enough to put all 17 on a powerpoint slide and say “look, these are important” or “Our Company supports the SDGs.”  Share how!  The only way we are going to be able to establish lasting change is by letting others know what breakthroughs are out there and sharing for the greater good!

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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