New project: “Linking the UN Sustainable Development Goals to life cycle impact pathway frameworks”

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 high-level goals for a better planet, ranging from no more poverty and education for all to protection of the climate, the land and the oceans. A new project, "Linking the UN Sustainable Development Goals to life cycle impact pathway frameworks", aims to connect the vision-based approach of the SDGs with the feet-on-the-ground approach of life cycle thinking.

Brief background and summary of needs for this project

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 accompanying targets, with 230 indicators so far. Two years after their publication, these goals are still not widely implemented in business practice, and the sheer number of targets and indicators carries an obvious risk of cherry-picking and sub-optimal decision-making.

One of the problems is that the 169 indicators were developed for governments and NGOs and not for business. For instance, none of the indicators underlying the Climate goal has business relevance: they all focus on policies, subsidies, etc. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission reports that the first hurdle is re-interpreting the indicators to link them to business, especially to decisions around product strategy and development.

In contrast with the top-down goal setting process of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Life Cycle Community has developed knowledge, data and experience to assess products and systems in a bottom-up mode. The community has developed something unique: a large repository of data that describes all major relevant supply chains throughout the world, plus the methodologies to translate this data into social and environmental category indicators on different aggregation levels. This new project aims to fortify this top-down process with this treasure trove of bottom-up knowledge.

Project objectives, scope and expected impacts

The objective of this project is to develop a clear link between the top-down process that led to the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals and all the bottom-up knowledge, data and methodology in the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment area. This would allow businesses to relate their decisions to the SDGs.

Scope: In line with the Life Cycle Initiative vision, the project brings the qualitative and quantitative impact pathway thinking from Life Cycle Impact Assessment to bear on the 17 SDGs. It will investigate a range of options ranging from qualitative to screening approaches to fully quantified end-point metrics solutions.

Impact: The project will develop an actionable and rational method for businesses and governments to integrate the SDGs into decision-making and progress monitoring, and will therefore substantially help streamline and coordinate action in implementing the 2030 Agenda, increase our efficiency. The project will also include co-development and capacity development activities, providing policymakers, business decision-makers and LCA practitioners with new tools to enhance the effectiveness of their decision-making and strategy development. The outcomes will also be useful for streamlining and harmonisation of sustainability reporting.

Project members: The project will be managed by two life cycle assessment consultancy bureaus: 2.-0 LCA and PRé.

Inviting stakeholders to participate

The first step will be identifying and inviting decision-makers who represent government, business and consumers and relevant experts from the LCA and SDG research fields. Together, we will then establish an agenda for discussion, to understand:

  • the context of how SDGs are being used by decision-makers
  • how LCA-based metrics can contribute to that
  • the requirements and wishes of the various stakeholders
  • the need for capacity building.

This stakeholder consultation will take place in the next few months and is invitation only. However, if you are interested in participating, please contact us for more information.

Publication: As a part of this collaboration, we published a short joint report “Making the SDGs relevant to business”, summarising the current knowledge on the interests of companies and policymakers to link the UN Sustainable Development Goals to business needs and exploring the interest in using Life Cycle Assessment as a tool to support the use of SDGs.

Eric Mieras

Managing Director

Sustainability is all about impact. Positive impact makes you meaningful. But first you have to know where you are making an impact and where you can create shared value. That’s where PRé comes in. Pinpointing your impact is an essential starting point for taking joint action with people and organisations in your ecosystem. The combination of sustainability and social business can make a real change in the way we do business.

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