The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the measurables within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda has been adopted by all United Nations’ member States. The 17 SDGs are broken down into 169 targets and are measured through 231 unique indicators (247 in total with 12 repeating across different targets). The SDGs are in place to address the key challenges that the world faces with regards to climate change, human health and wellbeing, inequality and justice, environmental degradation, resource overuse and scarcity, and socio-economic issues, visioning and aiming for a better, more sustainable world for all . The SDGs are country level goals, meaning the indicators and KPIs reported against are more relevant on a large scale rather than on a company or organisation level. This can make measurement difficult to track.
Measurement can be assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively, with organisations having different methods of work or varying impacts on their industry. This diversity leads to many degrees of influence over the SDGs, meaning that particular organisations facilitate the goals in different ways.
If we take the construction industry as an example, the impacts it has on the social and environmental factors of the world will differ from project to project, building to building. Incorporating themes like social value, environmental social governance (ESG), sustainable construction, energy efficiency, net zero carbon etc. into the industry’s common practice can have benefits in the local context but also impact the global achievement of the SDGs. Organisations of any kind within or neighbouring the industry can have an effect over any of these key themes that are becoming prevalent. Understanding the interaction of the construction and real estate industries and sustainability helps identify the key areas that relate to the SDGs.
BREEAM, and the suite of sustainability assessment schemes, have a distinct role within the construction industry, measuring sustainability across the lifecycle of construction projects from buildings to infrastructure projects. A BRE Trust part-funded PhD carried out by Paul Mansell, mapped the SDGs to CEEQUAL, the infrastructure specific sustainability assessment scheme. Mansell et al. (2020) identified links between best practice sustainability-reporting frameworks at the project level and organisational level. The work was published by the Institute of Civil Engineers and allowed for the alignment of frameworks like this to the SDG targets and embedding them into the design and construction of projects. This published work led on to a similar mapping piece carried out by BREEAM, aligning the measurable criteria within the assessment schemes across the lifecycle of buildings to the SDG indicators.
Figure 1. SDG hierarchy and reporting level for the Goals, highlighting the project level interaction (adapted and redrawn from Mansell et al. 2020). Read more about this work here.
Drawing from this work, the BRE Trust was interested in exploring its own impact on the 2030 Agenda.
The Role of BRE Trust in Supporting the SDGs
This report, developed by Stephen Alexander, highlights the role that the BRE Trust plays in support the SDGs, primarily as a supporter of research and certification that can improve practice in various industries. By mapping the influence the Trust has in areas related to each of the goals, the Trust can identify where it could be doing more to support the 2030 Agenda.
Degree of influence circle showing the different levels of impact the Trust has over certain Goals. The primary Impact zone displaying direct correlations with the more indirect and “trickle down” effects occurring as you move through the zones. (Icons from https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/communications-material/)
The report outlines 4 core Goals that the Trust supports as a direct result of its work:
BRE Group are experts in third party certification, with a broad range of standards, assessment schemes and scientific research related to the topic. Group certification schemes are reinforced and supported by Trust-funded research and training development to provide further rigour to the standards and certifications. Click the image to read more.
Opening up and providing accessible, applicable information is a key part of Trust related activities. Being a built environment charity brings obvious connections to the built environment sectors, like construction and real estate. However, the Trust’s research and associated funded work also reaches across several other sectors, including the retail, humanitarian, and health sector. Click the image to read more.
The relationship between the goals and past and present projects is important, but as the SDGs are part of the 2030 Agenda, there is still work to be done, and it is important for them to be incorporated and supported, with intent, in all future projects and outputs. There are potentially a number of ways to create a supporting framework, be it at a product or project level, or organisational level.
Future steps or approaches that could be beneficial for the Trust and the wider BRE Group:
- Reform evidence capture to encapsulate the longer term measurement of impact against recognised external frameworks like the SDGs.
- Analyse the wider portfolio of products and practices within BRE Group against the SDGs.
- Identify the main impact areas against the SDGs and investigate ways in which these can be accentuated in the future while also highlighting any potential gaps that could be filled with a different focus.
- Develop a framework to utilise the Goals as a reporting tool to advertise the wider benefits of BRE’s activities. The incorporation of frameworks like this, and others (e.g. social value measurement frameworks) can help to bolster and add rigour to the impact statements behind certain products and provide support to other themes like ESG reporting.
- Utilising a more holistic view, try to identify any gaps in SDG support that may occur and see where these can be filled through the overlap and interaction of the products and services provided by BRE. Not every target and indicator within the goals is supported by singular products and services, so by identifying areas where these interact and overlap, support for indicators and targets that may otherwise be missing can be identified through this holistic approach.