Sustainable goals for a sustainable green economy

The Sustainable Development Goals set the priorities for a more sustainable, green economy, but that means that how we assess and measure that economy needs to change, argues Oliver Greenfield.

The real transformational challenge set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is about getting everyone – from governments through to the business community – to work together to do things differently, and this requires a common language, according to Oliver Greenfield from the Green Economy Coalition.

Sustainable development requires a sustainable (or green) economy, he explains. The SDGs represent the priorities for that economy. They catalyse what it is that markets should be delivering for people and societies.

And the principle of universality is so exciting because it establishes the need for a convergence – that all sectors need to work together to deliver the goals.

Developing a common language

The targets and indicators are important because they can provide a common language that allows you to compare and link up between different sectors – whether that is at the international level, the national level or within the business community. All levels need to be striving towards the same goals, and the indicators provide a common way of talking about this – allowing a better managed system

Measuring what matters

The Green Economy Coalition's Measure What Matters project seeks to focus attention on what needs to be measured in a sustainable economy. Greenfield explains that progress on corporate social responsibility reporting has been held back by a national level focus on gross domestic product (GDP). If governments are only interested in profit, why should companies report on their environmental or social impacts?

The SDG agenda is a step forward in changing that agenda by catalysing a discussion that goes beyond GDP at the national level. This in turn will help to drive more engagement from corporates on sustainability, Greenfield argues.

The Measure What Matters work aims to find a common language, using the measurement system, to allow a common discussion on how to go beyond GDP between governments, corporations, investors and at the international level.

Implementing the SDGs at the national level

When it comes to implementing the SDGs, countries are going to identify indicators that make sense within their national circumstances, but which must also contribute to delivering these global targets. Greenfield argues that it is crucial that governments empower different communities to act and to measure their own performance in different areas.

In that way, governments will be able to call on national stakeholders to ensure they are contributing to the delivery of the goals – and sectors will be able to work together to deliver transformational change.

IIED is publishing a series of video interviews with IIED experts who are working on issues relating to the SDGs. Watch the 'Understanding the SDGs' series on YouTube, or read the individual interviews below: