Need to Know: U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Headshot of Scarlett Lanzas for digital exclusives article

Projects have the power to create a better world for all—and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can help organizations deliver on that vision. Adopted by 193 countries in 2015, the 17 goals serve as a veritable blueprint for bold action on climate change, poverty and hunger, education, health and well-being, and inclusive economic growth. But while many public and private organizations have pledged to work toward achieving these targets by 2030, progress has slowed—and the push to ensure that “all people enjoy peace and prosperity” is in jeopardy. 

An alarming July 2022 report from the United Nations shows the “destructive impacts” of the pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and climate change on meeting the SDGs. 

“The clock is ticking,” says Scarlett Lanzas, founder and CEO of Accountable Impact, a nonprofit in Miami that helps companies and policymakers build a business case for adopting the SDGs. “We still have time, but we need to get our act together.” 

That starts with project leaders reassessing the landscape to find which initiatives are fueling progress and which are falling short. 

Lanzas reveals three things you need to know to ensure projects deliver on the SDGs:

  1. Focus your effort.
    Rather than trying to take on everything, zero in on what’s achievable and applicable to your project. Companies may select the most relevant SDGs at the enterprise level based on company size and goals. A project leader in the apparel industry might be working toward Goal 12 around ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, along with Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth. In other cases, staying focused might mean committing to making tangible progress toward just one SDG. Some projects can even align with company values such as Goal 3 on good health and well-being if boosting cancer research is an org priority or Goal 4 on quality education if the emphasis is to improve learning outcomes for girls.
  2. Empower and engage stakeholders from outside your organization. 
    Voices from advocacy groups or government agencies can often offer new perspectives on how to advance SDGs. Ask people in the community around your project site what their needs are—and how you can contribute. You might even be able to connect your project or program with local efforts already underway and leverage resources, thus increasing impact in the community.  
  3. Build in accountability. 
    The SDGs are broad, but each goal is associated with specific targets, which you can tailor to your own project objectives. Consider programs like the SDG Compass, developed by the U.N. Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which offer business tools and indicators organized by industry. Then consistently measure and report annually on your efforts publicly to show progress—and inspire others to step forward.

To explore more about UNSDGs, sustainability and ESG, visit PMI’s ESG Resource Hub.


View More Digital Exclusives

Deliver Meaningful ESG Results

PMI’s Measuring the Impact of ESG Initiatives report explores how project leaders can help organizations make ESG goals a reality.

Read Measuring ESG >>