The United Nations outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); they are the road map, the check points, the pillars to strive for that all 193 UN member states have agreed to relentlessly pursue to achieve a better future for all. They show a path to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. And according to the UN website, fulfilling these ambitions will take an unprecedented effort by all sectors in society – and business has to play a very important role in the process.
But looking at goals on that grand of a level can sometimes leave you feeling like you don’t know if you can really make a difference or where to begin. I want to push back on that feeling and encourage each of you to search for and write your own sustainability story.
In 2015, the same year that 193 countries signed on to support the SDGs, I was visiting Germany for a work trip. My husband and I went to the East Side Gallery at the Berlin Wall, which showcases street art painted on pieces of the Berlin Wall. I took a picture with one of the murals painted by artists Muriel Raoux and Kani Alavi in 1990. It read:
“Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world,”
The statement is an African saying that in this instance was referring to the democratic movement that led to the fall of the wall. When I really sat with that statement, and looked at it painted on the Berlin Wall, what used to be one of the most iconic symbols of oppression in society, it really made me recognize how incredibly small I was in the world but how equally big my impact could be.
I say all of that to highlight the fact that individual actions can make a difference, and even outside of our personal impact, we are all a part of an industry that plays a huge role in meeting these sustainable development goals by 2030.
So here we go – here is my step-by-step guide to writing your own sustainability story.
1. Find Your Why
To find a goal that motivates you, looking at the 17 SDGs is a good place to start. Maybe ending poverty or promoting gender equality is what motivates you. Or perhaps, looking inward and realizing that you want a sustainable future for your kids to grow up in is what keeps you pushing forward. Even if you look at this purely from a business perspective, a sustained healthy economy directly impacts your bottom line and thus is highly motivating.
Whatever your motivation is, putting a name to it should be the first thing on your list.
2. Find Where you Fit
Next up is finding where you fit in the sustainable development equation. Last month, Empowering Pumps & Equipment hosted the Sustainable Infrastructure Summit. The purpose behind the summit was to touch on goal number 9 “Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure”. We brought thought leaders from the industry to talk about what that looks like for our industry. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend doing so.
The first speaker, Lindsey Geiger, from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, taught us that sustainability usually refers to three areas of impact: economic, social, and environmental. The economy supports a healthy society and both of those function within and depend on a thriving environment. And then Lindsey encouraged everyone to find where they fit in within those three areas and where you can have the most impact, while keeping in mind that all three areas are inherently linked.
3. Share Your Story
Last on my personal list of how to approach the UN’s SDGs is to share your story. You have clearly defined your why, and found a place where you can make an impact, now you have to tell people about it. Because sharing our story is the way we inspire others to do the same. You don’t have to write an article in a magazine (although, if that’s your thing, apply to be an industry expert), it could be a short post to your LinkedIn page or other social media platforms. It could even be as simple as sharing your sustainability story with friends over dinner. Like the saying goes “Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world.”
So what is my sustainability story? I have two young boys that motivate me every day to try and make the future a better place, to try and raise them as kind humans that positively impact the world around them, and to try and take care of our planet so that their kids can enjoy it. Using Bowen and Jack as my ‘why’, I go to work doing important things that I can feel confident are moving the sustainable needle. At my current role with Empowering Brands, producing the Empowering Industry Podcast to share people’s stories, and organizing the Empowering Women conference, I’d say my current fit is firmly in the social area of impact of sustainability: pushing for gender equality and highlighting individuals who are positively impacting our industry.
So now the question really falls to you. What is your sustainability story?