Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: how to move from intention to realization?

Published on 19/10/2023 | La rédaction

The UN's Agenda 2030 promises to transform our world, but at the halfway point in 2023, only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals have been achieved. Despite this, we must refuse resignation and draw inspiration from strategic management to breathe new life into this crucial utopia. Tribune.

In September 2015, 193 UN member states adopted a collective project of unprecedented scope (the Agenda 2030), with the ambition of positively and sustainably transforming all of Humanity. To achieve this, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), broken down into 232 indicators, provide a guide for action and real-time monitoring of progress in each of the countries concerned.

Could we imagine a more beautiful utopia in our complex and fragmented World? The 17 interdependent SDGs directly address the most serious problems facing our societies, and aim to resolve them by 2030: eradicating poverty, ensuring quality education for all, achieving gender equality, guaranteeing access to water and sanitation for all, etc.access to water and energy, reduce inequalities, restore the earth's ecosystems, and so on. Idealistic though it may be, the project is nonetheless eminently indispensable, with the achievement of the SDGs perhaps appearing as the ultimate chance to preserve some semblance of a satisfactory quality of life on Earth for years to come.

The year 2023 provides an opportunity for a mid-term review. And the least we can say is that it's hard to be optimistic. Halfway through the "match", the UN reveals that only 15% of the Sustainable Development Goals have been achieved: " The world is far from being on track", says Secretary General Antonio Guterres, euphemistically. Of the 17 SDGs, the only indicators showing real progress are the use of telephone and Internet networks on the planet... while others, such as food security while others, such as food security, immunization coverage, fossil fuel substitution, greenhouse gas emissions and the extinction of species, are stagnating or in sharp decline[1]...

So, despite the many public and private initiatives taken by governments, companies, associations and NGOs, the facts are stubborn: the human race is heading in an extremely perilous direction... And nothing seems to indicate the emergence of a collective leap in consciousness or of indisputable leaders who would initiate real change towards a sustainable world. In France, the eco-anxiety of a significant proportion of the population, revealed by opinion polls, is only marginally reflected in everyday behavior. On the contrary, it seems that, to paraphrase the famous "tale" of the frog, we are gradually getting used to the pot heating up and letting it cook without reacting too much...

Don't give up

At a time when the magnitude of the task at hand can lead to discouragement or fatalism, how can we make a positive contribution to the debate? Is it possible to find a few keys to help implement change in favor of the SDGs? Like the hummingbird of the late Pierre Rabhi, we are attempting to do just that, and here we offer a few lessons from the scientific literature on strategic management, aimed at public authorities, companies and organizations that want to take action.

Reject the "impossible" label, which too often justifies inaction, and which itself generates self-fulfilling mechanisms. Today, the SDGs may seem "impossible" to achieve. But if you think in advance that a project is impossible to achieve, you're right - it really will be. "They didn't know it was impossible, so they did it" is an oft-quoted Mark Twain quote: it has an element of reality, as the greatest leaders have always shown: "we shall never surrender" (W. Churchill). As long as we don't give up, the game is not lost[2].

Never neglect implementation... : " 10% of strategies are actually implemented", warns Henry Mintzberg, who, like many others, disputes the inefficient separation between those who would be the most effective and those who would not.Like many others, he challenges the inefficient separation between those responsible for "thinking" strategy and those responsible for putting it into practice. The success of any strategy, no matter how brilliant, lies essentially in the day-to-day micro-decisions, behaviors and inter-relationships of the players on the ground. Drawing up a "plan" including ambitious objectives and indicators is only as good as its practical application: in the end, it's the coherence of the organization, and the commitment and motivation of those involved on the ground that lead to the success or failure of a project.

Accompanying change. The commitment, motivation and behavior of those involved cannot be decreed by a "plan", but requires high-quality management. How can we achieve this? Let's take a look at three ideas for our ODDs. Firstly, a sense of urgency: to agree to change, an individual must understand why this change is important (or vital). Secondly, any change must be associated with a "vision", a desirable, inspiring future. This message is lacking today: transition, sobriety and degrowth are concepts that conjure up images of constraint and deprivation, all of which are obstacles to action in societies that are already in great social distress. At their core, the SDGs are not just about limiting a predicted cataclysm, but ultimately about building a sustainable, fairer, more respectful and balanced world, which is a more engaging collective project. Finally, it's about rethinking management, to refocus it on its true role: ensuring the development of the human potential that lies within each individual, in symbiosis with the environment. This does not mean that management is less efficient in economic terms: the Institut de Socio-Economie des Organisations (ISEOR) provides rigorously documented proof of this[3]. By placing greater trust in individuals, encouraging creativity, innovation and collaboration (public-private, interdisciplinary, intergenerational, inter-territorial, etc.By fostering creativity, innovation and collaboration (public-private, interdisciplinary, intergenerational, inter-territorial, etc.), and by promoting coordination, consultation and communication, it combats the dysfunctions that undermine individuals and organizations, and helps to restore the room for maneuver needed for the harmonious development of society.

[1] United Nations (2023), Times of crisis, time of change, Science for accelerating transformations to sustainable development, Global sustainable Development Report 2023.

[2] Interested readers can read our article co-authored with Prof. Gilles Grolleau, published in June 2021 in the Journal of Business Strategy.

[3] See in particular H. Savall, V. Zardet, M. Péron, M. Bonnet (2015), "Le capitalisme socialement responsable existe", Editions EMS.


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