Getting Started

What Are the Sustainable Development Goals?

According to its charter, one of the core tenets of the United Nations is “to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character.” Addressing the entirety of that portion of its mission, in 2016 the organization unveiled a 15-year plan to tackle 17 key development priorities.

What are the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs? As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon explained, “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”

The SDGs represent a natural extension of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight objectives that helped reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide by more than half between 1990 and 2015. By demonstrating how focused efforts can attract both resources and political backing, the MDGs set a foundation for the SDGs’ objective of resolving considerable social, economic, and environmental issues by 2030.

What Are the Sustainable Development Goals?

Despite their successes, the MDGs were beset by a number of shortcomings in reaching some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. The SDGs’ architects built off this previous experience to cast a wide, inclusive net that touches virtually every aspect of the human condition. The SDGs include:

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequalities
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions
  17. Partnerships for the goals

Impact investors have in many ways led the charge toward SDG adoption.

The SDGs and Impact Investing

In addition to inspiring social and environmental disruption, the SDGs represent an economic opportunity worth at least $12 trillion worldwide, according to the Business and Sustainable Development Commission.

In many ways, impact investors have led the charge toward SDG adoption. In the Global Impact Investing Network’s 2018 Annual Impact Investor Survey, 76% of the 229 large impact investors polled said that they either currently track or plan to track investment performance against the SDGs. Additionally, all but 10% said that the UN-defined goals eased communication of their investments’ impact, and 73% valued the ability to tie their efforts to the global initiatives.

The increasing interest of impact investors in SDGs is creating a new discipline: SDG investing. The UN sees this investments trend as a move beyond the traditional, finance-first model to one that explores private sector impact more deeply than environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing does. As a result, money managers are creating investment offerings designed around the SDGs.

Opportunities for SDG investing are likely to keep expanding—though, as some have pointed out, true impact will result from the innovation and hard work facilitated by the funds invested in, not from convenient ties to SDG themes.

Want to learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals? Read:


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