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UN Sustainable Development Goals - Goal 9

4 October 2018


 

In September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". Known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 169 targets which make up the 17 goals provide a framework for countries to guide their path towards a more sustainable future. Ethical Screening is investigating how companies can contribute to The Goals. This blogpost focuses on Goal 9 - Industry Innovation & Infrastructure.

What is Goal 9?

Goal 9 of the Sustainable Development Goals concerns building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation. The goal is supported by targets which support these three central aims, also including the role of finance and access to financial services (target 9.3). Three of the targets are 'means of implementation' (9.A, B, C), which target the developing world and least developed countries more specifically with, for example, technology development and access to the internet.

How can companies contribute to Goal 9?

Covering industry, infrastructure and innovation Goal 9 arguably speaks more directly to businesses than many of the other goals. Industrialisation has been a catalyst for human driven environmental impacts, including climate change, so innovation going forward is a key part of efforts to achieve resilient infrastructure and sustainable, green industrialisation in the future.

Many rural communities are excluded from economic opportunities simply due to a lack of infrastructure, meaning improving the links between rural and urban communities is vital for development, including regional and transborder infrastructure (target 9.1). Better roads and railways, for example, facilitate links to economic opportunities as well as better access to education and healthcare This simple solution can have a dramatic effect on reducing poverty by cutting trade costs.

Sectors that can have a significant influence on this issue are engineering and power, for example General Electric is leading a consortium in Nigeria developing freight and transport links across the country. G.E. has invested around $2.7 billion in Nigeria's aging railway system. This helps rural communities and will have "almost incalculable socio-economic benefits" for villages and towns along the railway line, according to the Nigerian transport minister.

As noted above, target 9.3 recognises the importance of access to financial services for the poorest individuals in developing societies. For example, in the developing world, 70% of women-owned small businesses are offered only short-term or very high interest loans, resulting in nearly 300 billion annual credit deficits for these enterprises. In addition, would-be entrepreneurs can be thwarted by limited access to technology and the lack of physical infrastructure that is necessary for growth.

Unilever, in partnership with Mastercard, is supporting small businesses in Africa by digitizing the platform which is accessed by local merchants. Digitalization makes a historical record of local merchants' purchases and uses it to create a credit line which is essential for growing their businesses. This is an important step in the direction of social and financial inclusivity, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The arrangement benefits Mastercard and Unilever as good global PR, but also by promoting their companies in areas of the world where growth has been relatively slow.

Digital and technological access are key drivers of inclusive growth. Target 9.C aims for a significant increase in universal and affordable access to the internet in the world's least developed countries by 2020. To this end, BT Group have recently completed a project that has given 180,000 people across 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa internet access. Connecting Africa, BT's community project, was devised to give the poorest individuals in the community access to education and healthcare, which is vital to economic development.

Spirax Sarco Engineering is a recognised leader in driving sustainable and energy efficient industrialisation. The company specialises in industrial and commercial steam systems, pumps and associated fluid technologies. The products Spirax develop enable their customers to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas, with an estimated saving of 5.8 million tonnes of CO2 in users' emissions last year.

Although Spirax operate largely in the more economically developed countries, there is still plenty of scope for engineering companies to grow in the developing world whilst fulfilling SDG 9. As innovation moves forward, building smarter infrastructure by using renewable energy would give savvy companies limitless possibilities for sustainable and inclusive expansion in emergent nations as industry is relatively new in these countries.

Why is Goal 9 important?

A Business for Social Responsibility survey in May 2016 investigated sustainable practices of companies and only 30% of companies that took part regarded SDG 9 as a priority. We consider, however, that SDG 9 is an industry targeted goal, with engineering, ICT and research companies in good positions to contribute to, and benefit from, targets.

Therefore, there is additional scope for companies that do not regard this goal as a priority and that can meet specific SDG targets to refocus on SDG 9. As with the other SDGs, Goal 9 is inextricably linked to others, with a general expectation that global poverty would be reduced if the goal were achieved. What's more, access to better infrastructure would improve sanitation, health and education outcomes. Target 9.1 references both economic development (SDG 8), and improving well-being (SDG 3). Target 9.4 aims to improve the sustainability of existing industry, which will be achieved by elements of SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), SDG 7 (clean energy) and 6 (clean water). An emphasis on financial assistance for small-scale businesses, which are increasingly managed by women in the developing world, is also referenced in target 1.4.

Conclusions

Improving infrastructure links with better roads, airports and railways is a clear driver of growth, creating new jobs and a better functioning society. Following on from industrialisation, innovation develops a more highly skilled workforce and value-added products that boost GDP.

As with other goals, achievement is dependent on national and international policies and investment in research projects. However, companies are undoubtedly the ones to implement these policies and therefore, there is a significant opportunity for businesses to be in the vanguard of innovation and benefit from a transition to more sustainable ways of working.

Harry Oates - Researcher

04/10/2018


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