Ahead of the Global Engineering Congress (GEC) in October, Hayley Baines-Buffery explores the critical role of the construction and infrastructure sector in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Nearly three years ago, in September 2015, governments across the world agreed to an audacious plan. A plan to transform our world into one where people everywhere can have a decent life, prosperity is shared and our planet is protected.
That plan was called the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations had spent several years negotiating it, ending up with 17 Goals and 169 targets, all meant to be achieved by 2030.
Because the construction and infrastructure sector builds tomorrow’s world, it will play a critical role in determining whether we can achieve them.
Implications for the construction and infrastructure sector
The construction sector builds the places where people live and work, the infrastructure for supplying them with energy and water and the transport systems that move people, products and raw materials between them.
Construction has huge social, economic and environmental impacts during the design and build process, not to mention in the procurement of materials and services.
Companies operating in the sector create buildings, infrastructure and places that can last for hundreds of years, and a built environment that shapes all of our lives.
That means if we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030 then we need to act now. The risks of inaction are too great – but the opportunities are many. For example, according to the UN Global Compact, pursuing sustainable and inclusive business models could unlock economic opportunities worth at least US$12 trillion a year by 2030.
How has the sector responded so far?
It’s fair to say that until now, the built environment sector has lagged behind others in responding to the challenge and opportunity of the SDGs.
There are some notable exceptions – Cundall, for example, has mapped its business impact against the SDGs. Siemens has made Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities central to its sustainability strategies. And Arup’s 2016/17 report says the SDGs provide “a structure that enables us to identify the issues on which each of our projects can have the greatest impact.”
But it’s clear that the SDGs won’t be achieved by individual companies working in isolation from each other. The level of ambition required, the challenges faced, and the complexity of the systems that impact, and are impacted on by the SDGs, means that joined up action will be needed. In the UK, the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) was set up to create a network to enable such collaboration, and there are other partnerships emerging at a global level. Momentum is clearly building. However 58% of the people at Ecobuild hadn’t heard of the goals.
And those who had, didn’t know how to get started using them. Why do they matter? Which Goals should they prioritise? And where to get started?
Guidance for tackling the SDGs
Bioregional’s practical guide “Building a better future with the SDGs” sets out an approach to getting started on tackling the SDGs. It picks out all the SDG targets that companies in the construction sector can impact on, and recommends actions to take.
The SDGs may sound daunting, but you may well discover you are already doing a lot to achieve them without realising it.
So let’s use the SDGs to build a better future together.