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United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Buildings

Exploring the application of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to Buildings.

Our world is in dire need of a mindset shift toward sustainability. Issues related to climate change, pollution, waste management, and social inequality are currently at the forefront of conversations. And within the construction and development industries, making sustainable changes starts with understanding and embracing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).


The UN SDGs - a series of 17 goals and 169 targets to be achieved by 2030 - were adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015 to end poverty and protect our planet. This framework provides a blueprint for how we can work together to ensure that current generations and those to come can have healthier lives, cleaner air, and access to quality education, healthcare, and employment.

In the UK, reports show that 40% of the country’s carbon footprint arises from the built environment (UKGBC). With such a high contribution to the overall carbon emissions, the construction and development industries offer unique opportunities to reduce emissions while creating jobs and improving economic growth.


To make this happen, we must start by understanding how our current practices impact the environment, then leverage new technologies and solutions to create more sustainable outcomes. By doing so, developers can reduce their environmental impact and provide meaningful social and economic benefits to the community.


But how can construction companies and building firms apply the UN SDGs to their projects? And are there reporting systems that allow for tracking SGD progress sufficient to capture relevant data?

In this article, we will be exploring these questions and more related to UN SDGs as applied to the construction of buildings in the UK so that industry leaders can make informed decisions about sustainability.


What Are The UN SDGs?

The United Nations (UN) created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as Global Goals, to be a set of universal standards for countries and organisations around the world to reach by 2030. Implemented in 2015, these goals coincide with the Paris Agreement, a legally-binding international treaty that seeks to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050, committing countries to keep their emissions under a certain level while also supporting those with higher emission levels to transition towards clean energy sources.


The SDGs were built upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and are considered a more comprehensive set of global standards for development, aiming to address the root causes of poverty worldwide.

The 17 UN SDGs fall under four categories: people, planet and prosperity. Each goal is subdivided into specific targets and indicators to help countries achieve them. The SDGs focus on key areas like poverty, health, education, gender equality, clean energy, responsible consumption and production, climate action, peace, and justice.


The 17 UN SDGs are:

1. No Poverty

2. Zero Hunger

3. Good Health and Wellbeing

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


These goals provide a framework for countries around the world to work together towards achieving sustainable development in all areas of life – economic growth, social inclusion, environmental protection, peacebuilding, justice systems, etc., while leaving no one behind in the process of progress towards these goals by 2030. The hope is that by implementing these goals, we can create a better future for this planet and its inhabitants.


The World Green Building Council is one of the leading organisations advocating for sustainable building practices that align with the UN's SDGs. In an effort to increase SDG adoption through real estate and development firms, WGBC provides guidance on how to design, construct and operate buildings in ways that reduce their environmental impact while also providing social benefits.

Alongside WGBC, the UK Green Building Council provides resources on incorporating green technologies into building designs. By focusing on SDGs, they aim to help make buildings in the UK more sustainable and efficient – from reducing energy use and emissions to improving air quality, waste management systems, water conservation strategies, and occupant health.


How the United Nations SDGs Apply to Buildings & Development

The Real Estate sector is at the forefront of constribution to sustainability including 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint and 60% of waste that arise from the built environment, we must consider sustainability when designing and constructing buildings and developments. The UN SDGs offer a framework for developers to work towards achieving sustainable development across all aspects of their projects. The World Green Buildings Council has prepared a comprehensive guide that is summarised below:

  • UN SDG 3: Health and Well-being: Developments to protect us from harm and avoid contributing to environmental pollutants.

  • UN SDG 5: Clean Water and Sanitation: Developments to provide access to clean and safe water as well as regenerate natural resources.

  • UN SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy: Developments to focus on lifecycle energy efficiency, decarbonisation and support the green energy transition.

  • UN SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: Development to create jobs, help re-skill and enable the green energy transition.

  • UN SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Developments to provide high-quality infrastructure to promote economic prosperity and enable a low-carbon transition.

  • UN SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities: Developments to support human health, decent standard of living, eliminate energy poverty and enhance equity and resilience for all.

  • UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities: Developments to help create a strong fabric between cities and communities through sustainable development to enable inclusive, safe and resilient human settlements.

  • UN SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Developments to promote a circular economy to enable zero waste to landfill and act as a catalyst for natural regeneration.

  • UN SDG 13: Climate Action: Developments to enable the efforts towards meeting the 1.5°C target through energy efficiency, decarbonisation and incorporation of future-proof mechanisms.

  • UN SDG 15: Life on Land: Developments to enable the generation of natural resources and biodiversity.

  • UN SDG 17: Partnership for Goals: Development to take advantage of partnerships to enhance knowledge-sharing and optimise the efforts to achieve sustainability goals.


Which Key Entities In The UK Industry Recognise The UN SDGs?

In order to help companies in the UK recognise and incorporate the UN SDGs into their operations, regulators in both the private and non-private sectors are recognising the importance of sustainable development.


Some of these entities include:

  • RICS (The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) has developed a global ethical framework that sets out professional standards and encourages the promotion of “sustainable behaviour.” 

  • The Infrastructure Pipeline Authority provides advice and guidance on transforming infrastructure performance in accordance with the UN SDGs by 2030.

  • British Land is committed to a 2030 sustainability focus - which prioritises areas including decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) and responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).

  • The Local Governments Association (LGA) has developed a roadmap for working toward the 17 SDGs with guides that help to outline how they can be implemented and reported on within the built environment.

  • The Environmental Agency offers a range of publications, information, and guidance to help reduce unsustainable levels of energy consumption in the built environment.

  • The British Property Federation (BPF), a membership organisation for the owners and managers of property in the U.K., works to promote developments that create positive environmental, social, and economic impacts.


Similarly, the Infrastructure Pipeline Authority and other UK governmental organisations have programs and initiatives that align with UN sustainable development goals and help companies in the sector to become more energy-efficient.


Current Leaders in the Industry Implementing the UN SDGs

The UN SDGs are increasingly being recognised by industry leaders, who can use them to inform their decisions about building and development.

One such leader is UK-based Lendlease, a global construction and property development company that works with governments, businesses, and communities to create long-term sustainable.


Barratt Developments PLC is another leader in the built environment that has created reporting frameworks by which to measure and assess its business performance against the UN SDGs. It looks at energy efficiency, resource management, waste reduction, and other areas to ensure that its projects are in line with the goals of sustainable development.


Other industry leaders include Morgan Sindall Group plc, which has implemented a carbon reduction program across all of its businesses to reduce emissions and energy consumption. Similarly, Landsec, the UK's largest property company, is developing an integrated sustainability and environmental strategy to ensure its buildings meet high standards of occupant health and well-being.


With 17 different opportunities for positive change, companies around the world are recognising the UN SDGs as a way to direct their efforts in creating a more sustainable future. And construction companies and firms can take advantage of these goals to ensure that their designs, materials, and systems meet those standards.


What Are The Benefits of Implementing UN SDGs as a Reporting Framework?

Implementing UN SDGs as a reporting framework allows companies to highlight their social and environmental efforts in a way that stakeholders can easily understand. Not only does this help them to measure, track and report their progress against their objectives, but also helps inform investors, customers, and others of the company’s sustainability efforts. Benefits include:


1. Improved Environmental Performance

Implementing a UN SDG reporting framework helps companies identify improvement areas in terms of their environmental performance. It provides an opportunity to track, assess and disclose progress on policies, programs, and initiatives across the company. This allows businesses to quickly identify potential areas for improvement or expansion and make necessary adjustments.

For instance, businesses may use the framework to track and report on their carbon footprints, reductions in water usage, improvements in waste management systems, or even progress towards achieving zero-waste goals.


2. Increased Transparency and Accountability

By committing to UN SDG reporting, companies can demonstrate transparency and accountability for their sustainability efforts. This helps to build trust with stakeholders such as investors, customers, and employees.

For instance, a framework can encourage companies to set ambitious targets, resulting in significant improvements in sustainability performance over time. Companies may also use UN SDG reporting to benchmark their progress against peers and ensure consistent performance improvement.


3. Improved Planning Capabilities

UN SDG reporting provides businesses with the necessary data to develop and implement strategies to achieve their sustainability goals. It can also be used as a basis for forecasting future trends to develop long-term plans and budgets. 

This can help companies identify gaps in their sustainability performance and take corrective actions to reduce environmental impacts and improve social impact. And where necessary, UN SDG reporting can help companies adjust their strategies to ensure they remain aligned with global sustainability goals.


4. Increased Operational Efficiency

Implementing a reporting framework can help organisations identify potential improvements in operational efficiency. For example, analysing data from energy use meters can uncover waste patterns and suggest where to invest capital for greater returns. Or contractors who use digital tools to record job-site progress can reduce documentation errors and generate more accurate estimates for future projects. Such efforts can help organizations trim budgets, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction - all of which can help businesses succeed.


5. Enhanced Brand Image & Loyalty

By taking a proactive stance on environmental issues, businesses can also improve their brand image. By actively working to make buildings and development more sustainable and reduce their environmental impact, companies demonstrate that they care about the planet and are committed to making a positive difference.


When customers recognise this commitment, it can sometimes translate into increased loyalty. A study from The Capgemini Research Institute found that 80% of consumers switch their shopping and personal investment decisions based on a company or firm’s commitment to sustainability. Of those surveyed, 77% reported that they would spend more and stay loyal to a company with a corporate social responsibility pledge.


6. Better Prepositioning for Government Contracts & Grants

With the UK government increasingly emphasising sustainability as a key factor when awarding contracts, businesses committed to the UN SDGs are better positioned to win those contracts. Not only do they demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, but they also benefit from the various environmental and social benefits of implementing UN SDGs. This, in turn, enhances their public image and encourages more consumers to purchase their products and services. 

Furthermore, businesses can also access certain resources provided by the government, such as grants and subsidies. Such benefits will further help businesses strengthen their position in the market and better serve their customers.


Are There Limitations to Implementing UN SDGs?

While the benefits are plentiful, challenges exist to the true implementation of the UN SDGs in a reporting format.


Recent reports from the World Bank show that the successful implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) faces several limitations, with one being the insufficient pace of progress on SDG data reporting.

Based on a linear trend from 2015 to 2019, no SDG is expected to have all indicators reported by countries, and gender equality data is particularly scarce. The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted data collection efforts, affecting data availability and quality in the future.


The correlation between data reporting on SDGs and other pillars of the SDG Index is lower, suggesting a potential lack of political will to report SDG data. Reporting SDG data is important for monitoring progress and making actual progress on the goals. Ultimately, continued efforts to measure and report SDG data must be prioritised to ensure their successful implementation.

Beyond the difficulties of governing bodies to track SDG data, businesses and firms themselves face challenges when attempting to implement the UN SDGs:


1. Identifying & Implementing Goals Within Your Context

One such challenge is the difficulty in understanding how certain goals should be applied in the context of their business.


For example, some businesses may struggle to understand how SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth – applies to their operations or how SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production – should be implemented. This is especially true for businesses in the construction industry, which need to consider their specific business context and the particular challenges they face.


2. Lack of Awareness

In many cases, a lack of awareness or education about the UN SDGs can limit their implementation. This is particularly true for businesses that operate in sectors where the SDGs are not as widely discussed, such as construction and development. Without proper knowledge of both the goals and how they can be applied, businesses may find it difficult to make real progress in incorporating them into their operations.


3. Lack of Resources To Adequetly Implement SDGs

Another limitation is the lack of resources available for businesses to implement the SDGs. Many businesses may not have the financial resources necessary to invest in sustainable practices or technologies, making it difficult to meet certain goals. Businesses may not have access to adequate training or support from external organisations that could help them better understand and apply the SDGs - a major obstacle to adoption.


4. Prioritisation In Uncertain Economic Markets

There's also a risk that businesses may prioritise certain goals over others when implementing them into their operations. This could lead to an imbalance between different goals, making it difficult for businesses to achieve all 17 SDGs in a balanced way.


One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is for businesses to focus on understanding the interconnectivity between different goals and prioritise them in a way that supports their overall objectives. Similarly, businesses should also take into account the economic environment they’re operating in and adjust their priority list accordingly.


How To Take Your First Step Toward UN SDG Implementation with InForecast

Businesses and leaders within the construction industry can benefit greatly from the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Yet many feel that the challenges of understanding and implementing them are too daunting. However, with the right tools and resources, taking your first step toward UN SDG implementation doesn’t have to be difficult.


At InForecast, we offer a InForecast Sustainability Assurance software that can help businesses in the construction industry understand and implement the UN SDGs. Our cloud-based application makes it seamless and secure for companies to engage their project teams and supply chain to capture. manage and analyse sustainability data.

With a single platform tool, users can track the progress of their projects against UN SDGs, as well as other standards - including the Value Toolkit from the Construction Innovation Hub. This provides companies with an easy way to monitor their progress toward sustainability goals.


The platform also offers automated process coordination between disciplines, making it easier for companies to coordinate efforts across multiple departments. This helps ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page when it comes to sustainability initiatives and that everyone is working together towards a common goal. InForecast utilises the latest technologies to make it easier for construction companies to monitor and report on their sustainability efforts - reducing the obstacles that can prevent the successful implementation of UN SDGs.

By equipping construction companies with the tools they need to understand and achieve their sustainability goals, InForecast is playing a role in helping businesses build a better future.


Together We Can Create Hope for Sustainability

Never before has our world faced so many complex challenges that require global solutions. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provide an effective framework for businesses to help address these issues, and the construction industry plays an especially crucial role in achieving them. With the right tools and resources, companies within the industry can easily take their first step toward implementing UN SDGs into their projects and operations.


InForecast is dedicated to helping your teams make sustainability a priority. Our cloud-based platform simplifies the process of understanding and implementing UN SDGs, making it easier for businesses to make a meaningful impact on the future of our planet.


Start your journey towards UN SDG implementation today with InForecast! Together, we can create hope for sustainability and equity across all industries - and create a world where everyone can thrive.


5 June 2023

Issue Date:

Author:

Nick Stepanov, CEO

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