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3 Ways You Can Help Advance Sustainable Development Goals Today

We all know our world needs to be a better place. Each of us can point to concrete areas that demand immediate improvement. But have you ever found yourself trying to describe the problems at hand to someone, and feeling completely overwhelmed in the process?

Fortunately, organizations like the United Nations have clearly laid out goals for global sustainable development.

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If there is one thing the world doesn’t need, it's more talk - more words unsupported by concrete steps. So how can you take action? What can you do to take goals like the ones developed by the UN and reframe them to be sustainability goals for individuals? How can you implement them into your life and make a real positive impact? Below are three ways you can improve human life and the planet today.


The United Nations is leading change

In an extraordinary show of solidarity, the United Nations (UN) has identified the most pressing issues facing our world today. In September 2015, at a historic UN summit, the coalition of world leaders outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which took effect on January 1, 2016, with the goal of being accomplished by 2030. These new goals that universally apply to all nations, call on countries to mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change while ensuring that no one is left behind.

These 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which reached their target completion date in 2015. The new goals are unique in that they call on all countries to participate - whereas the MDG only applied to the developed world.

Let's Take a Look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero Hunger
  3. Good Health and Well-being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life On Land
  16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

Here's what you can do to support these sustainable goals

Use your voice — end poverty

Current conservative estimates have more than 700 million people living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per person, per day. While the majority of these poor live in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty is not a problem in only underdeveloped countries. Right now there are 30 million children growing up poor in developed nations in the world’s richest countries.

The best way to help end poverty once and for all is to use your voice and active engagement to petition policymakers and private industry to prioritize addressing extreme poverty. Extreme poverty ends when the world’s poorest are given access to tools such as meaningful jobs, quality education, and affordable healthcare, to name a few. The USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty names effective governance and accountable institutions as the foundation for inclusive economic growth.

So what can you do? Use your voice - write a letter, email, or pick up the phone and call your congressman. Demand that they work to pass legislation that would take action to end extreme poverty. Organizations such as ONE are leading this charge against poverty, through campaigning and advocacy. One example of an initiative the support is the BUILD Act, in which the federal government would partner with the private sector to help provide the capital necessary to sponsor American entrepreneurs, bringing jobs and economic growth to the world’s poorest countries.

Consume responsibly — zero hunger

Extreme hunger and malnutrition remains a barrier to sustainable development and creates a trap from which people cannot easily escape. Worldwide, nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger, the majority of whom are in developing countries. With an expected 2 billion hungry people on the planet by 2050 (that is a staggering 1 in 5), there needs to be a dramatic shift in global food and agriculture systems.

Addressing the needs for food security is paramount, as it is a key piece of building a more sustainable and just future for everyone. Hunger limits human development, which in turn prevents us from reaching the other sustainable development goals such as education, health and gender equality.

How can you fight hunger?

This is one of the more clear-cut sustainability goals for individuals.

First, make changes in your own life and home. When possible, support your local community by purchasing food at farmers markets and make sustainable, nutritious food choices. Fight food waste by only purchasing the food you know you will be able to consume. One great tool (among other ways to reduce household food waste) is meal planning. By taking the time to plan out your meals for the week, then making a list of the necessary groceries you can avoid overbuying - both saving you money and reducing the likelihood of throwing away uneaten food.

Additionally you can use your voice to work for change buy purchasing from sustainable businesses that support and work toward zero hunger. You can also join the Global Movement for Zero Hunger by joining the Zero Hunger Challenge.  

Find alternatives — affordable and clean energy

By 2030, the UN’s goal is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Currently 1.2 billion, or 1 in 5 people do not have access to electricity. This setback acts as a constraint on human and economic development. Additionally, energy consumption is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for about 60 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

To improve this situation, businesses need to protect ecosystems and commit to sourcing their operational electricity needs from renewable sources. Employers can contribute by reducing the demand for transport by offering telecommuting options and incentives for those using less energy intensive transportation (such as carpools, public transport, bikes, etc…).

At an individual level, you can save electricity by plugging appliances into a power strip and turning them off when not in use. You can reduce your energy consumption and carbon footprint by walking, biking, and ride sharing. Additionally, you can raise awareness and advocate for change through social media platforms.

As an individual and a consumer, there are hundreds of other ways you can work for a better, more just and equitable society, and to meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN. Some are called to go a step further, partnering with and working for organizations such as the United Nations to bring these goals to fruition.

Here's how to encourage people to be sustainable — a graduate degree in sustainability

Doing something like earning a graduate degree in a sustainability-related field can help transform the world. Your graduate degree will help you make a career out of your passion. A program like Bard's MBA in Sustainability can give you the knowledge and skills necessary to make your job application stand out from dozens like it.

If we truly want to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, then the world needs passionate, driven individuals in the various fields of business, who are trained to lead the change in sustainability practices and inspire others to follow. Together, leaders and individuals committed to working for justice, fighting against poverty and inequality, and adopting sustainable practices will bring about the world in which we all want to live.   

Work on these issues from a policy or business standpoint.

Bard's Graduate Programs in Sustainability have degrees to prepare you for both fields!

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About the Author

Eban Goodstein

Eban Goodstein

Dr. Eban Goodstein is an economist and the Director of the MBA in Sustainability and the MS and MEd programs at the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College. He is known for organizing national educational initiatives on climate change, which have engaged thousands of schools and universities, civic institutions, faith groups, and community organizations in solutions-driven dialogue. Goodstein is the author of three books and numerous journal articles focused on climate change, sustainability and green jobs.