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Conflict of Sustainable Development Goals in organisation
Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Conflict of Sustainable Development Goals in organisation
When we analyse SDGs, we can conclude that sustainable development has 3 main pillars: (1) striving for increasing economic efficiency (economic development and economic growth), (2) fostering social responsibilities (social progress and social inclusion), and (3) improvement of environmental protection. At first glance, it may seem that all 3 pillars are in harmony and that sustainable development is an easy task for a company or organisation to realise. Nevertheless, in practice, that is not the case, and it is not true, neither on a global or local level, nor on the level of a particular organisation or company.
The pillars of sustainable development are in intertwined interaction and they cannot stand on their own without influencing one another.
Therefore, sustainable development requires a holistic approach, and when a company or organisation or even local or national government develops a sustainable development strategy, it has to take all pillars for each strategic goal into account. Moreover, interrelationships between pillars should be analysed and balanced as well. For instance, continuous economic growth can be detrimental to social welfare and for ecology, if it is conducted in a manner that does not consider the role of a company in a local community and its social responsibility towards all stakeholders, including the environment aspect.
There are studies in which the existence of conflict is elaborated on, even within the UN’s SDGs.
For instance, Spaiser, Ranganathan, Bali Swain, & Sumpter (2017) tested the consistency of 17 UN SDGs by applying an extensive set of indicators in official statistics measuring global social and economic development. They came to several conclusions: (1) economic growth fulfills socio-economic, while hindering environmental goals, however, (2) factors can contribute to socio-economic development (such as health programmes and government spending on welfare programmes) without diminishing the ecological goal of renewable energy usage.
Mika and Farkas (2017) contribute to the debate providing insight into conflicts of the “renewable energy” goal with other SDGs. They claim and test the following conflicting goals and targets when discussing renewable energy usage: (1) “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”, (2) “By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous people, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment”, (3) “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” and (4) “By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests, and increase afforestation and reforestation globally”.
In addition, Yamagata (2017) claims that poverty reduction and other sustainable issues are in conflict in their nature because poverty reduction goals address only a limited number of humans, while all other goals are oriented towards universal benefits of all humans. He claims that there can be only a part of sustainable development projects, which contribute to both to sustainability and poverty reduction. Some corporate donors even emphasize their orientation towards ecological and economic efficiency rather than emphasizing the poverty reduction goal. They will prefer to put efficiency in food production and distribution by avoiding the waste of food surpluses than to emphasize help provided to people experiencing material deprivation in their business strategies.
Trisos et al. (2019) elaborate on the necessity to map SDGs conflicts when developing sustainability strategy in order to: (1) identify regions with high potential SDG conflict, and (2) provide it as a boundary object that can be discussed from various viewpoints and that can facilitate open discussion. Also, they proclaim collaboration of different sectors involved in a sustainable project. In their study, the process of mitigating SDG conflicts is illustrated via the mosquito net fishing example in central Africa.
Brunet et al. (2020) describe how SDGs can be in conflict when a large-scale photovoltaic power plant is implemented and they suggest the methodology to be applied when planning such a strategic project. The proposed methodology can be used in the strategic planning of sustainable development for other entrepreneurial projects. They indicate that in strategic SD planning economic, social, environmental, energy, water and food, governance and land should be analysed by addressing the major positive impact, impact that can be improved at local, regional, national and international levels. In their paper, they give a vivid example of a plant in Madagaskar, but tables can be used as a tool for SD strategic planning in all industries (see Table 3). One table has to be produced for each level of impact,
which means that each project or initiative will develop 4 different tables: one for local, one for regional, another for national and one for international impact. Such tables provide comprehensive insight on areas with high risks and high potentials of a certain SD project or initiative. Moreover, they could be a basis both for effective activity plan development and for communication with sustainability stakeholders on different levels.
Table 3. Tool for assessing SD impact
Level: International / National / Regional / Local
Major positive impact of the SD project or SD initiative
Major impact to be improved by the SD project or SD initiative
Water and food
Governance and land
Source: Adapted according to (Brunet et al., 2020).
Questions / tasks
1. Find the official UN webpage regarding SDGs. Choose one of the following topics (1) poverty and hunger, (2) clean energy, (3) improving health or (4) reducing inequalities. Investigate the topic and prepare a short report on areas included in the topic, policies implemented, measurable goals, etc.
2. Continue research on one of topics from task 1, and give an example of a company or organisation dealing with the chosen topic in your local community. Describe the way it operates and its role in SDG achievement.
3. Name 2 companies from your country in the following industries: food manufacturing, tourism, retail and fashion production. For each company, provide some ideas as to how they could incorporate the UN SDGs into their mission or vision statement. Take their current operation and their market position into account.
4. Find 3 companies on the list of the most successful companies in your country.
Go to their websites and analyse how they communicate sustainability. Prepare
a short report on web structure, available information on addressed sustain-ability areas and aspects; cite some examples of the stated sustainability mission,
vision or objectives for each company.
5. For the same companies given in task 3, analyse and comment on the most recent GRI report (if available).
6. For the same companies as given in task 3, research newspaper articles and provide a critical opinion—is sustainability really included into their everyday business practice? Outline some real-life examples of activities performed by those companies in the local community to support your arguments.
7. Compare Brundtland’s definition of sustainable development with the definition and set of measurements found in the GRI guidelines. Discuss which of those is easier to fulfill and follow up from a managerial perspective.
8. Discuss ways in which some local company can be proactive in sustainable development activities and how a business can promote its best sustainability practices to become standards of conduct on a local level.
9. Give at least 3 examples of how good SD goals can cause detrimental effects on other SDGs.
10. Choose 1 SD initiative or objective from the following list and use the suggested table from chapter 2.1.3. to assess its impact. List of SD initiatives or objectives:
a car manufacturer will switch 50% production capacities to electric cars by
2030, (b) fish farm will expand production by 30% and employ 150 new workers, (c) food factory will use 100% bio degradable packaging made from oak bark, plastic packaging will be fully removed by 2030, (d) farm will reduce production of cow meat by 20% and increase production of chicken meat by 30% in the next 2 years.
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