If I was given a dollar for every time I saw the Sustainable Development Goals’ multi-colored icon grid in a sustainability presentation, I would be a rich man. But the SDGs are a great example of how ubiquity doesn’t necessarily equal a successful communications/engagement strategy.
Undoubtedly, the SDGs are a groundbreaking framework that has united businesses and world leaders behind a shared vision of what a sustainable world looks like, which is incredible. But as a communications tool, I think they're flawed. Collectively, the Goals are too big and overwhelming to resonate with the average person — in the same way that talking about any international framework would be. People simply don't think and behave in numerical grids.
In many respects, the SDGs were the answer to the prayers of sustainability professionals; a colourful, one-page grid that summarises all of the components of a sustainable world. And as such, we've latched onto them — for setting strategies and communicating business to business, they are a powerful tool. But move beyond the sustainability bubble and they fall upon deaf ears. For example, was it really appropriate for Niantic, the makers of Pokémon GO, to create 17 SDG-branded PokéStops? When one's Pikachu is doing battle with a Snorlax, surely the last thing on one’s mind is Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation (and rightly so)?!
So, instead of talking about the SDGs per se, I think we need to start treating the SDGs like a chocolate advent calendar. Our job as communicators is to fill each Goal with joy and meaning: the colourful details that inspire everyday people to make a change.
A few brands have done just that: Whether it be REI’s #OptOutside campaign to get more people out of stores to the outdoors on Black Friday (Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production), Ben & Jerry’s uniting its supporters to call for a more inclusive world (Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities), or the IRC giving a voice to young women who face violence (Goal 5: Gender Equality): Each story gives warmth and meaning to an otherwise cold number.
How can your company bring life and meaning to the Goals that are most relevant to your brand and customers?