Dear Prime Minister, we care about sustainable development because…


Through the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) network, Bioregional has joined hands with 80+ leading businesses in the UK who want to work with the Government to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to take action.

Their letter, published in the Times, asks Theresa May to ‘demonstrate to business your commitment to deliver the SDGs in the UK.’  It explains that ‘sustainable development will create jobs, increase competitiveness and secure the natural resources our economy relies on.’ And it calls out the Government’s lack of action on this agenda. The letter was coordinated by UKSSD, a multi-stakeholder network set up to support the delivery of the SDGs in the UK.

Why are the SDGs important to business?

In 2015 the UK Government committed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals along with the other 193 United Nations Member States. The process and the nature of the SDGs themselves is unlike any other UN initiative that went before them.

The Goals set the world on a trajectory where poverty is eradicated, society is equal and just, the environment is protected, unsustainable consumption is curbed and catastrophic climate change is halted. These challenges are not the responsibility, nor are they impacting on, developing countries alone. The SDGs apply universally to all countries.

The businesses that signed the letter recognise the long-term economic risks of inaction. Progressive organisations understand the reputational and financial risk to their business should they have a negative impact on the world around them. The SDGs offer a way to show their customers that they want to help build a better future, and demonstrate their values and commitments as a business.

Those working for sustainable development and the SDGs understand the connected world we live in and recognise the complicated relationship we have with the world. The flow of goods, services, and peoples means we all need to understand the challenges we may face in the future should we do harm now.

Why should we care about the SDGs in the UK?

The open letter calls on Theresa May to do more to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to working with business and others to deliver the SDGs in the UK. But why should an international framework matter to us?  Here are three reasons:

  1. Forming a socio-political narrative people can relate to.

We don’t need to highlight that 2016 has been a challenging year for public policymaking. We have witnessed a shift in the way public opinion is formed, with evidence-based policymaking no longer holding sway with many people. The SDGs offer us a way to communicate both the scale of the challenges facing society, and a path for achieving a positive vision of the future. From our work on One Planet Living we at Bioregional understand that using a framework of this nature enables people – from school children to governments – a way to engage in the creation of a shared vision. 

  1. Bringing an end to short-termism.

We have to move away from a process of political decision-making that results in policies undermining one another as a result of short-term electoral cycles. Energy and climate change are an obvious example where despite our own legal commitments, the repeal or changes to energy policies such as the Feed-in Tariffs or Climate Change Levy mean that being the polluter does actually pay and we’re breaking our own laws. Recognising the relationship between the 17 Goals and 169 Targets is a way to understand the complicated interactions between problems and how to address them in a coherent way. The SDGs offer an overarching framework that spans multiple election cycles – they are an opportunity to move away from short-term decision making on critical issues which does not get to the root cause of an issue. 

  1. Solving our own problems.

While we may not have challenges of the same nature and degree as developing countries, the UK has complex systemic issues within our social, economic and environmental spheres. For example, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues that there are 13.5 million people living in poverty in the UK; of those 3.7 million are children and 7 million live in in-work households. So not only do we have children growing up in unjust, unfair circumstances but we have families who are working hard but aren’t thriving. The SDGs give us a starting point for setting ourselves on a better path, with a stronger vision of the future and what we need to do to get there.

The letter is a sign that business wants to do good in and for the UK. It just needs the Government to show it will work with them to do so.

So what can you do about it?

In 2015 Bioregional, WWF-UK and Stakeholder Forum initiated UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) to support the delivery of the SDGs in the UK and to ensure that the spirit of participation and partnerships that underpinned the UN process continued at a national level.

You can find our more by joining UKSSD at the Annual Conference, Unlocking the UK’s potential: From ambition to transformation, in London on 1 March 2017. Register here.  

Through their work to build partnerships, share insights and increase capacity they are showing that organisations representing an array of sectors and interest areas do care about sustainable development, and that they’re ready to implement the SDGs together.

Do get in touch.

Emily Auckland, Co-chair UKSSD

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