Sustainable Development Goals in the UK Contents

2Awareness and engagement

5.Richard Curtis, Co-founder of Project Everyone, described the Goals as an “extraordinary, urgent and optimistic plan for a new generation”.7 It consists of 17 “integrated and indivisible” Goals and 169 targets which balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.8 Unlike its predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals are universal, applying to the entire world, developed and developing countries alike.9 They have been developed to ensure that the Goals are “met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society” and that “no one will be left behind”.10

6.The Global Goals are the result of an extensive UN consultation.11 The 70-member “open working group” which drew up the proposed Goals was supported by 11 thematic and 83 national consultations, door-to-door visits and an online survey involving civil society, the private sector, and academia.12 Despite this inclusive approach to developing the Goals, it is clear that public awareness in the UK is “minimal” and “shockingly low”.13 Elizabeth Stuart Head of Sustainable Development Goals at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) told us the Goals have “just not been part of the national dialogue; nobody has heard of them”.14 The business representatives we heard from also report low levels of awareness of the Goals in the private sector.15

7.This lack of awareness was worrying. The Goals are not a legally binding framework and will rely on the goodwill of Governments to facilitate its delivery, utilising the power of public sector institutions (e.g. NHS and local government) to deliver the Goals on the ground, and helped by businesses pursuing economic opportunities presented by the Goals and held to account by NGOs monitoring progress. Participation was, therefore, a strong theme running throughout the Goals. Dr Graham Long, Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University told us:

Popular participation is a very strong thread running through the goals. You see it in lots of different target areas. It is one area where there could be a genuine change. That would fulfil the goals themselves and also promote the goals to have that broader participatory component across lots of different areas, so that people are more aware of that, at local level, city level, to Government and beyond.16

But it is clear that this level of participation won’t be achieved until there is greater awareness among all sectors in society.

8.We heard a number of theories as to why awareness of the Goals was low including the complexity of the negotiations to agree the Goals, the UN’s use of jargon and the sheer number of final Goals, targets and indicators.17 Some witnesses, however, highlighted the strength of this large agenda. Richard Curtis emphasised the comprehensive, interlocking and representative nature of the Goals and told us that “everybody finds something in them that they are passionate about”.18 This is something we found during our event with young people in Birmingham. During an exercise to prioritise the Goals each group came up with its own unique list of Goals it thought was most relevant to the UK context. The challenge was, therefore, not trying to get people to care about the issues enshrined within the Goals but to communicate them in a meaningful and engaging way.

9.It was generally felt that increasing awareness of the Goals among the general public, civil society, businesses and policymakers was important to ensure that the Government was held to account on its progress to meet them.19 UNICEF UK told us they “will only be effective in so far as they are known and understood”.20 Given the current low profile of the Goals this is a huge challenge. During the course of our inquiry, however, we heard a number of innovative and creative ideas, many from British businesses and charities, helping to raise the profile of the Goals.

Role of charities and NGOs

10.At a global level, the ODI has developed a scorecard for the Goals. Elizabeth Stuart told us this was “useful as a tool to start thinking about the [Goals] and what needs to be done to start getting into the agenda”.21 Similarly, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung have developed a Sustainable Development Goal Index and Dashboard which tracks, reports and ranks different countries’ progress on the Goals.22 In the UK, several charities have come together to establish UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), a multi-stakeholder network in the UK aiming to inspire and support public, private and voluntary organisations to transform the UK into a sustainable society.23 The work of UKSSD was complemented by the Bond SDGs Group, a civil society coalition with over 150 member organisations advocating for the full implementation of the Goals.24

11.Project Everyone, a UK-based not-for-profit organisation which was founded with the aim of “making the Goals famous” has also been pursuing efforts to promote the Goals globally. Richard Curtis told us that Project Everyone have “been trying to […] make it as simple and attractive and accessible as it can be”.25 The organisation has been focusing on visualising the Goals and telling stories about them.26 Project Everyone facilitated the development of the striking logo and branding for the Goals. It has also undertaken a number of high profile campaigns and events endorsed by famous actors, artists and musicians. Richard Curtis highlighted a “mainstream TV show” Project Everyone made in partnership with Global Citizen which was shown in 150 countries including on BBC One where a million people watched it.27 Kate Garvey, Co-founder of Project Everyone, told us about another of their big successes, a viral video adaptation of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” film which “immediately reached 60 million shared views and now it is 190 [million]”.28 She also said Project Everyone was looking at “gaming” and partnering with “Pokémon Go” to promote the Goals.29

12.During our event with young people in Birmingham we heard a strong message that it was important to engage with young people through schools from an early age. This was supported by a number of respondents to our inquiry.30 In order to raise awareness about the Goals with young people, Project Everyone has produced a range of teaching materials and was encouraging schools in the UK and around the world to teach children about the Goals. Kate Garvey described Project Everyone’s work in schools:

We have a programme called the World’s Largest Lesson; Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have supported this and it was kicked off in the UK—David Cameron did a message in 2015. The idea is that there is a set of tools for teachers to share with kids about the goals in assemblies, classes, and we have had great support in Britain from people like Sir Ken Robinson and Emma Watson; Malala has also supported this. It would be brilliant for all MPs to take a lesson. I think in Argentina 10 Government Ministers take part now every year. That raises the profile for sure and kids are responding brilliantly to it. […] If the Department for Education could write to every school that would be brilliant because that could be the pickup. […].31

Role of business

13.The business representatives we spoke to talked of a growing perception that businesses have “moral duties” and that this was starting to drive interest in the Goals.32 Dr Christine Chow, Associate Director at Hermes Investment Management, said that the fundamental role of businesses “is to deliver goods and services that are required by society” but that businesses operate within a “stakeholder system […] which is part of the licence to operate”.33 Geoff Lane, Senior Partner in UK Sustainability and Climate Change Team at PwC, summed this up in terms of purpose and trust. He said:

They want to be trusted by their customers, by their employees, by their investors, by the key stakeholders, by the communities in which they operate. They are getting clearer that they want to be seen to have a positive purpose in life, whether that is at a brand level or at a company level. Those two things increase the obligation on businesses to take account of their impact on society and therefore to take account of the sustainable development goals, so therefore a key responsibility to deliver the goals.34

14.Richard Curtis described a change in the level of business engagement over the past 10 years:

I remember in 2005, when we did the Make Poverty History campaign, we could not have any conversations with business. They simply disengaged. I remember they were fundamentally hostile and assumed that we were dangerous left-wing idealists, and the contrast here is extraordinary. I would recommend to you […] Better Business, Better World, about business and the sustainable goals, which has just come out. It is a really interesting document that talks about the profitability potential in the goals of $13 trillion of extra money that could be made in all sorts of areas: medicine, energy, food. It is an incredibly good starting point for businesses. We hope that the business argument will not only be moral—we should never forget nor not be passionate about the moral thing—but also work out financially.35

15.The business representatives we spoke to have helped to drive increased business engagement with the Goals. Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva emphasised the need for a business case perspective to the Goals. He told us “we are commercial entities and so from a business-case perspective, what the business case associated with sustainable development Goals looks like is crucial”.36 Describing the Goals as 17 market failures he said:

Now, they would not exist as goals if the markets were functioning properly. I think the [Goals] represent 17 market failures. The role of business could be therefore—with Government support, with better-defined markets, with rule of law more clearly specified, with other incentives set out—to help deliver, close gaps and provide solutions, particularly in areas like health care, education, climate-friendly energy solutions. So, there is money to be made with market development. They would not exist as problems if the markets were not failing; it is a self-evident fact.37

16.Steve Waygood set out the potential opportunities and risks to engaging or not engaging with the Goals. He highlighted a Business & Sustainable Development Commission report that recently estimated that “sustainable business models could open economic opportunities worth up to US$12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030”.38 Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman has said the Goals offer the “greatest economic opportunity of a lifetime”.39 Steve Waygood told us, however, that risks posed by climate change, for example, could wipe $43 trillion off the economy in the future.40 He said “I think the biggest opportunity to business is avoiding the very significant negative macroeconomic consequences of the markets failing to be sustainable”.41

17.Steve Waygood suggested incentivising business engagement with the Goals using the power of leagues tables and benchmarks. He highlighted his belief in the power of “name, shame” and “fame” to “drive that race to the top”.42 He said that “any board of any real brand would be worried if they were at the bottom of a robust, credible benchmark”.43 Steve Waygood said that this could be achieved by utilising sustainability reporting. He said “[…] we think that the time has come to take the data that companies publish, sustainability reporting, and turn it into a public good”.44 He continued:

Some of that information could be turned into a corporate race to the top. If we were to take the [Goals], all the listed companies, map them on to each other, and then, sector by sector, issue by issue, produce these corporate league tables—it is not a trivial task—to build the criteria in an open-source way, with the best expertise of NGOs, policymakers, academia, and others, and companies, and investors, will take time, but it can be done.45

18.Dr Christine Chow from Hermes Investment Management highlighted that some of the large European pension funds have already undertaken studies looking at how they could align their investment objectives with the Goals.46 In response to the IDC’s Sustainable Development Goals report the Government said that it saw:

Value in international benchmarks that promote responsible business behaviour, and want to equip businesses and investors with the tools they need to assess their progress against the Goals. The Government is discussing benchmarking with partners and may support them providing there is sufficient evidence that they will contribute to more responsible business behaviour.47

19.Both Dr Christine Chow and Geoff Lane described how their companies have been helping other companies to engage, understand and inform their approach to the Goals.48 Geoff Lane described the work PwC has done to develop online mapping tools such as its new SDG Navigator App and what he had learnt. He told us:

It is being used to help inform strategy at the top of organisations. […] We have learned that going with a one-size-fits-all approach on the SDGs into companies does not work. You cannot pre-judge how it is going to work for them. They may be focused on particular countries, particular issues, particular parts of their business. The important message from us is that we want to get people started on this journey and trying to do the whole company in one go is pretty complicated. […].49

20.In September 2016, UKSSD convened representatives from 20 different organisations including major UK businesses to discuss how business could implement the Goals. They heard about the work some businesses were already doing to map their alignment to the Goals and embed the Goals within their operations, despite consensus amongst participants that there has been very little government facilitation or incentive to do so.50 Richard Curtis and Kate Garvey from Project Everyone told us about the businesses which they have been working with to help promote the Goals including BBC World Service, HSBC, Google, Bower, Unilever, Virgin and Pearson through outward, public facing and inward employee facing campaigns.51 Kate Garvey highlighted, for example, how Standard Chartered partnered with Liverpool Football Club to display the Global Goals logos on their shirts in one match in 2015.52

Role of the public sector

21.Local government and public sector institutions have a role to play in facilitating awareness and engagement. Dr Carl Wright, Secretary-General Emeritus at Commonwealth Local Government Forum said that the problem with the Goals was “getting it down to the ordinary citizen”.53 He described how local government could help to localise the goals “making them relevant to things that are being done already and having [ … ] a bottom-up approach”.54 He described the case of South Africa “where there is an interesting debate going on about what is termed localising the development goals and how local government in South Africa is going to be able to implement some of the targets and indicators”.55 He said that there were a “lot of local Government tools available” but cautioned that in the UK local government was facing funding cuts.56 He said “from a local government perspective, to make that awareness there does have to be collaboration with central government and with other agencies to get the issues across to the community”.57

22.Dr David Pencheon, Director of the Sustainable Development Unit for NHS England and Public Health England said that the NHS was a “very, very big anchor organisation” and was “very visible in every community in the country so what the NHS does, how it behaves, what it looks like, how you are treated, the dignity you are shown, are very symbolic of what we do as a nation to each other and thus we do with other member countries, so that is very important”.58 Dr David Pencheon went on to discuss the role the NHS could play in helping to deliver the Goals through its staff, as the fourth largest employer in the world, and in its central position in many communities.59

Role of Government

23.Governments around the world were also developing and implementing techniques to raise awareness and increase engagement with the Goals.60 In our meeting with representatives of the Colombian government, we heard how it was using its Sustainable Development Goals Commission (made up of senior government Ministers and officials) to facilitate communication with a range of stakeholders including local and municipal governments, NGOs and businesses. In Norway and Wales the respective Governments have held a series of public consultations and discussions with civil society and the general public to get them to think about sustainable development and how it could be managed nationally. The Welsh Government has passed the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act to enshrine domestic implementation of the Goals into law.61 The Norwegian Government has launched a TV advertisement to raise the profile of the Goals.62 The German Government has designated Bonn as a “city of sustainable development” to “promote a feeling of national ownership of this as an issue”.63 James Wharton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DFID, told us that the Government was sharing best practice with other countries in global forums. However, he told us:

That does not mean we will necessarily want to adopt publicity-style campaigns that other Governments have chosen to do. But if it can be evidenced that there is good value in doing so, and it is a worthwhile thing to take part in, then I would not rule it out as a possibility in the future.64

24.Richard Curtis described the passion he had heard the Prime Minister of Sweden, the President of Rwanda and the Presidents of Ethiopia and Guinea and the Vice President of South Africa talk about the engagement of their countries with the Goals. He said that “it will be very interesting to see how the British Government decide to play their level of engagement”.65 Richard Curtis said “it would be great to find a moment for the British Government to present, celebrate, think about and challenge on these issues”. He went on to say:

I am a great believer that it is worth selling things. I don’t think any company would launch a new product with a zero marketing budget. I think it is worth talking to them and finding a moment in the busy Government calendar to really focus on them. I remember in the election […] there was a development day in the election cycle, and you would hope that there would be a sustainable development day in which parties discussed those things and the election process.66

25.Raising awareness and encouraging engagement with the Global Goals will increase the number of people and organisations able to contribute towards meeting them. However, few people in the UK know about the Goals. Other countries and organisations have shown there are plenty of opportunities to make the Goals more widely known and understood. By contrast, the UK Government seems uninterested in raising the profile of the Goals, having undertaken no substantive work to promote them domestically. A focus on action abroad has left a doughnut shaped hole in the UK. This has to change. The Government should work with the BBC and other national media to launch a national campaign to raise public awareness of the Goals, and provide the public with ways to get involved and make a contribution. This could take place as part of Red Nose Day and Comic Relief, and link with charities working in the UK and overseas. The Government should look at possible changes to the national curriculum to provide ways for young people to become agents of change and engage with the Goals. This would form part of a national conversation about the Goals with a view to enshrining them in law, so that future Governments put sustainable development at the heart of every new legislative proposal.

26.Several businesses are already engaging with the Goals and looking at how the private sector can contribute to this ambitious agenda. The Government has said that it sees value in international business benchmarks that promote responsible business behaviour and may support them, if there is sufficient evidence that they work. We recommend that the Government commissions research on the costs and benefits of utilising business league tables and report back to this Committee on its findings when it has them. The Government should also support other initiatives designed to raise awareness of the Goals among the business community. Voluntary action by businesses and raising awareness within the business community will not of itself ensure meaningful progress on the Goals. The Government needs to look at what measures are needed to support those companies who are already engaged, and incentivise or require others to do likewise. Action on the EU circular economy package, or waste policy, linked to SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production is a good example of this.


7 Q257 [Richard Curtis]

8 United Nations Resolution A/RES/70/1, para 2–5

9 Q1 [Elizabeth Stuart], Q21 [Graham Long], Q89 [Dominic White], Q119 [David Pencheon], Q257 [Kate Garvey], Bioregional (SDG0016), Bond SDGs Group (SDG0022), WWF (SDG0027), Learning for Sustainability Scotland (SDG0028), UKSSD (SDG0034), New Economics Foundation (SDG0050), Institution of Environmental Sciences (SDG0058)

10 FDSD (SDG0043), Clean Air in London (SDG0044), Bond SDGs Group (SDG0064), United Nations Resolution A/RES/70/1, para 4

11 Q29 [Elizabeth Stuart], United Nations Resolution A/RES/70/1, para 6, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, ‘Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals’, last accessed March 2017

13 Q20 [Elizabeth Stuart], Q121 [Catherine Pearce], International Institute for Environment and Development (SDG0032), Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Bristol SDG Alliance (SDG0059)

14 Q20 [Elizabeth Stuart]

15 Qq74–85

16 Q21 [Graham Long]

17 Q117 [Carl Wright]

18 Q254 [Richard Curtis]

19 Bioregional (SDG0016), Bond SDGs Group (SDG0022), Food Foundation (SDG0025), Learning for Sustainability Scotland (SDG0028), Sightsavers (SDG0030), London Regional Centre of Expertise (LRCE) in Education for Sustainable Development (SDG0033), Local Government Association (SDG0037), UNICEF UK (SDG0038), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (SDG0039), Rothamsted Research (SDG0041), British Retail Consortium (SDG0056), Bristol Green Capital Partnership and Bristol SDG Alliance (SDG0059), UKSSD (SDG0062)

20 UNICEF UK (SDG0038)

21 Q22 [Elizabeth Stuart]

22 Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung, ‘SDG Index and Dashboards’, accessed March 2017

23 Q112 [Dominic White], UKSSD (SDG0034)

24 Bond SDGs Group (SDG0022)

25 Q253 [Richard Curtis]

26 Q262 [Richard Curtis], Q273 [Kate Garvey, Richard Curtis]

27 Q262 [Richard Curtis]

28 Q263 [Kate Garvey]

29 Q263 [Kate Garvey]

30 Q112 [Dominic White], Q120 [Catherine Pearce], South West Learning for Sustainability Coalition (SDG0022), Learning for Sustainability Scotland (SDG0028), Regional Centre of Expertise (LRCE) in Education for Sustainable Development (SDG0033)

31 Q260 [Kate Garvey]

32 Q61–62 [Steve Waygood], UKSSD (SDG0062)

33 Q61 [Christine Chow],

34 Q61 [Geoff Lane]

35 Q259 [Richard Curtis]

36 Q61 [Steve Waygood]

37 Q61 [Steve Waygood]

38 Business & Sustainable Development Commission, Better Business, Better World (January 2017)

39 Business & Sustainable Development Commission, ‘Why Sustainable Development Makes Good Business Sense’, accessed March 2017

40 Q86 [Steve Waygood]

41 As above

42 Q69 [Steve Waygood], Qq77–78 [Steve Waygood]

43 Q69 [Steve Waygood]

44 Q62 [Steve Waygood]

45 As above

46 Q85 [Christine Chow]

47 Qq248–249 [Gwen Hines], International Development Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2016–17, UK implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2016–17, HC 673, para 15

48 Q72 [Geoff Lane]

49 As above

50 UKSSD (SDG0062)

51 Q269 [Richard Curtis], Q283 [Kate Garvey]

52 Q290 [Kate Garvey]

53 Q118 [Carl Wright]

54 Q117 [Carl Wright]

55 Q117 [Carl Wright]

56 Q118 [Carl Wright]

57 As above

58 Q119 [David Pencheon]

59 As above

60 World Future Council (SDG0014), Bond SDGs Group (SDG0022), Office for National Statistics (SDG0026), WWF (SDG0027), International Institute for Environment and Development (SDG0032), UKSSD (SDG0034), UNICEF UK (SDG0038), Derek Osborn (SDG0042), FDSD (SDG0043)

61 Q121–122 [Catherine Pearce], World Future Council (SDG0014), WWF (SDG0027), UKSSD (SDG0034), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (SDG0039), FDSD (SDG0043), Alcohol Health Alliance UK (SDG0051)

62 Q18 [Elizabeth Stuart], Norad, ‘Global Goals: Opplysningsløypa - verdens vakreste nattevandring’, accessed March 2017

63 Q19 [Elizabeth Stuart]

64 Q235 [James Wharton]

65 Q261 [Richard Curtis]

66 Q262 [Richard Curtis]




20 April 2017