How do we know if we are making progress towards a sustainable future? What should we be paying attention to?
Since the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), there has been a global process underway to define a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An Open Working Group developed a proposal for 17 new SDGs, as shown in the slideshow below.
These goals are wonderful, and you certainly won’t find me disagreeing with any of them. They are all great things to aim for. If we could achieve them all, we would be living in a very different world – thriving, prosperous and fair.
But, 17 goals is a lot to keep track of. It’s not a simple framework. In an interesting development today, the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon released a Synthesis Report that examines all of the work to date on SDGs and proposes six essential elements for delivering on the SDGs. His framework is shown below.
I really like this framework. It elegantly summarises what really matters for a sustainable future:
- People: to ensure healthy lives, knowledge, and the inclusion of women and children
- Dignity: to end poverty and fight inequality
- Prosperity: to grow a strong, inclusive and transformative economy
- Justice: to promote safe and peaceful societies, and strong institutions
- Partnership: to catalyse global solidarity for sustainable development
- Planet: to protect our ecosystems for all societies and our children.
Simple sustainability frameworks often reduce sustainability to three dimensions – environment, economy and society. This s-x-dimension framework brings out the importance of the social much more strongly. Planet (environment) and Prosperity (economy) are still there, but the social is teased out into People, Dignity, Justice and Partnership. I think this framework has real potential and I’m looking forward to trying it out in my own work and seeing how others take it up.
Interestingly, Ban Ki-moon also stressed the need for transformative change in his report, something that I’ve written about previously. He wrote:
Transformation is our watchword. At this moment in time, we are called to lead and act with courage. We are called to embrace change. Change in our societies. Change in the management of our economies. Change in our relationship with our one and only planet.
The word ‘transform’ or its variants appears 42 times in the document and the six-element framework is intended to guide the transformational journey to sustainability.
Of course, the devil is in the detail and we need a whole lot of detailed indicators and targets that sit underneath a simple framework like this to put it into practice. But I think that having a vision that you can express in one simple diagram, so that people all around the world can grab onto it, is hugely important and a great achievement.
What do you think? Does this diagram make sense to you? Would you use it in your own work?