Think Globally – Act Locally

In 2015, the United Nations set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) with an overarching mission to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. With these goals in mind, and the 2030 agenda as a guide, 192 countries around the world are implementing a range of initiatives and partnerships to deliver on this grand vision.  These initiatives are often thought of as only operating at a national scale, but importantly include state and local level activity also: global impact can only be achieved through local action. 

Our Place in the Global Community

Australia is a signatory to the UN SDGs and has an important role in implementation of the SDGs and the 2030 agenda.  As our built environment supply chain extends around the globe and engages both developed and developing nations, Australians must play our part in ensuring development within each level is sustainable and supports our region in achieving measurable outcomes that support SDG alignment.

Many developed nations, particularly in north America, Europe and Asia, have embraced SDGs as part of the consumer, business and government narrative.  Somewhat the laggard, Australia needs to play a more active role in supporting global community efforts. There are many lessons to be learned – particularly from Europe – in how to progress the sustainability agenda and align it to business activity. Bringing such understanding to the Australian built environment value chain will be critical to support implementation and a move to a more sustainable future.

Drivers for adoption of the SDGs 

The key drivers for the adoption of the SDGs: 

  • Consumers are demanding higher standards of environmental performance and commitment to sustainable development.  They are increasingly prepared to pay a premium for these outcomes. 
  • Businesses see the financial return on investment from efficient assets, both from new developments and by retrofitting assets. Sustainability is shaping investment profiles which are increasingly focussed on ethical and sustainable investment portfolios. COVID-19 has shown us on a massive global scale that we do not have to be in the same physical space to work together. This will have future implications for how we will commute to work, how we work and how we live our lives.
  • Employers seeking to attract and retain talent now require an alignment between the culture and values of the organisation and the employee. Many, particularly younger, workers will choose to only work for businesses who share their values and commitment to a sustainable future.
  • Governments who are signatories to the SDGs, are committed to reporting progress towards these goals. It is likely that government and private investment will move to include sustainable practices as key assessment criteria over time. It is anticipated that in future, businesses may need to prove their sustainable bona fides to qualify for projects.

Sustainable Development is more than the Environment

For many in the built environment, the conversation around sustainability is limited to carbon and energy, or air, water, or waste: it is assumed that sustainability equates solely with environmental concerns. The SDGs, however, provide a far more nuanced and encompassing notion of sustainability that, while including environmental concerns, equally highlights social and economic imperatives.

A good example of this broader SDG frame can be seen through understandings of sustainable urbanisation. When seen through the broader SDG frame, for instance, sustainable urbanisation needs to include a range of additional elements outside of the direct environmental concerns:

  • Safe, accessible and affordable housing
  • Equitable access to health and education
  • Sustainable employment and wages
  • Disaster resilience
  • Efficient public transport
  • Sustainable production and consumption
  • Innovation and sustainable industry.

The built environment has a phenomenal capacity to effect the world in terms of its social, economic, and environmental impacts.  In Australia alone, the built environment provides:

  • work for 2 million
  • 400,000 learners and future workers
  • 9% impact in Australian GDP
  • 27% Impact on of UN SDG’s
  • 36% impact on Carbon emissions

And beyond our borders, we have a role to play in ensuring our prosperity is not at a cost to less developed members of our global supply chain.

Current focus on sustainability

Although sustainability is a clear concern across the built environment value chain, much of the effort in certification, reporting, and performance is specific to the individual building or development. To be successful, such efforts also require a broader and ongoing corporate commitment supported by the individual capabilities necessary to deliver outcomes.

Larger corporates and multinational organisations are already reporting on ESG (environment, social and governance) outcomes, but there is a significant opportunity for organisations to adopt and align with the UN SDGs to expand their contribution beyond a pure environmental focus to include social, ethical, and community sustainability.

Broadening the Focus to Sustainable Development

The UN Sustainable Development Goals require a range of interrelated activities and capability to realise. Adopting SDGs does not replace existing accreditation or reporting frameworks.  Alignment with UN SDGs provides a global reference framework for all sustainable activities, whether they are project outputs, business culture, skills of individual or government policy. They present a framework to lift our focus from local environmental impact to global sustainability and development.

Commitment to action  

The Declaration of Commitment to a sustainable future is a the first step in achieving measurable progress towards change.

The declaration itself is based on extensive research and inspired by The Paris Climate Agreement, The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, The Millennium Project Global Challenges, The Terra Carta, The Systemic Transformations as defined by the United Nations, Ellen McArthur Foundation,  Doughnut Economics, The European Green Deal, The Declaration of Interdependence of B-Lab, The Green building council, SDG Align’s Double Loop project and conversation with Stakeholders across the world of the built environment.

An industry bodies public commitment to the principals and to transparent reporting of progress towards the goals will demonstrate leadership and define the key areas of focus to enable industry members to align effort and maximise impact.


Join us on the Sustainable Development Journey