For one thing, they have crystalized understanding about sustainable development, allowing it to move from an ill-defined notion with different interpretations, to a blueprint for a better world with 17 specific goals, with 169 underlying targets and 232 approved and measurable indicators.
For another, it is a global agenda that applies to rich and poor countries alike. Their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, were primarily applied to emerging markets and were much narrower in terms of the sustainability topics they addressed. And the SDGs call on everyone in society to contribute, from governments to private companies, charities, scientists and individual people.
“Combined, these characteristics have led to the SDGs becoming a North Star for sustainability,” says Van Zanten, SDG Strategist at Robeco. “The SDGs aim to improve the lives of everyone, regardless of whether they live in Swaziland or Switzerland. And they make total sense. If we follow their ambition, we will improve well-being and likely also grow wealth, offering returns for investors.”
“The attention that the SDGs have gained is incredible. Now, five years later, we’re moving into the implementation phase of the SDG agenda. We must ensure that we translate this momentum into impact.”
So, what have investors learned, five years after their adoption on 25 September 2015, a date which is designated as SDG Action Day in the Netherlands. Van Zanten, who is writing a PhD on the role of companies in achieving the SDGs, identifies five main lessons.
“So, while much has been achieved, much still needs to be done,” says Van Zanten. “Looking ahead, the science is clear: sustainability is the only way forward. Covid-19 is a vivid illustration of what happens when we don’t heed the warnings from scientists – we need to learn to manage these risks. At the same time, we are continuously on the look for future investment opportunities.”
“The SDGs are a global blueprint for achieving just that. They stipulate long-term business opportunities in a world that would have lower business risks if we embrace this challenge.” “Let us all therefore go further and faster in contributing to achieve the SDGs. We have a lot of financial weight in our sector, so let’s use it. We have a choice: we can invest in companies that help meet these needs and still harvest alpha.”
“Now that the SDGs are celebrating their fifth anniversary, a ‘Decade of Action’ has kicked off to ensure these goals are achieved in the next 10 years. Let’s roll up our sleeves and take these lessons to make it happen!”