17 “What if…” questions based on the Sustainable Development Goals


In marketing parlance, my target audience is everyone in a position to create positive societal change, no matter how small their contribution may be. This is corporate social responsibility at its most fundamental level: the individual working professional. At the risk of sounding preachy, I believe we all have an ethical responsibility to operate within the norms and standards of our chosen profession, and a moral responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place for everyone.

I believe we all have a moral responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place for everyone.

No matter where you work – government, not for profit, industry, or academia – and no matter your chosen field – business, science, law, engineering, social work, medicine etc – it is important we avoid falling into the pits of complacency or feelings of helplessness when it comes to changing the status quo. Statements such as “we’ve always done it this way”, “it is what it is”, and my old favourite “ought does not imply can(i.e., Hume’s law) can be valid in some contexts, but often these phrases are used as conversation stoppers to avoid addressing problems within and outside your organization. To avoid this defeatist thinking, always ask yourself and your colleagues “what if…?” when presented with a situation where the status quo is less than ideal. You will often find that others share the same view: change ought to happen and we are the ones who need to make it happen.

Below are seventeen “What if…” questions based on the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (sometimes referred to as ‘the Global Goals’). These are big what ifquestions, bigger than most organizations can address single-handedly. However, if multiple diverse organizations joined forces, the goals could be addressed. And I recognize there may be no clear cut answers to the what if questions, but I firmly believe the questions are still important for people with access to skills, knowledge and resources to ask and discuss.

1. What if… we ended poverty in all its forms everywhere – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally?

2. What if… we alleviated hunger, achieved food security and improved nutrition, and made agriculture practices more sustainable?

3. What if… we could ensure the opportunity and resources so everyone could lead healthy lives and experience wellbeing throughout their entire lifetimes?

4. What if… we ensured everyone had access to inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities?

5. What if… we achieved gender equality and empowered all women and girls in every country?

6. What if… we made sustainable management of water and sanitation available for all?

7. What if… everyone had access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy?

8. What if… we promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all?

9. What if… we built more resilient infrastructure, promoted more inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostered more innovation across all sectors of society?

10. What if… we reduced inequality within and among countries?

11. What if… we made cities and human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable?

12. What if… we applied everywhere the principles of a circular economy to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns?

13. What if… we took more urgent action to combat climate change and manage / mitigate its impacts?

14. What if… we conserved and used the oceans, seas and marine resources more sustainability?

15. What if… we protected, restored and promoted sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and forests, and halted desertification, land degradation, and biodiversity loss around the world?

16. What if… we promoted peaceful and inclusive societies, provided access to justice for all and built effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels?

17. What if… we strengthened the means of implementation and revitalized the global partnership for sustainable development?

Even if we were able to make progress on only some of the issues listed above, would the world be a better and more sustainable place than it is now? I think so. Would that be a good thing? Yes. Are these future states achievable? I hope so. We won’t know for sure unless we try.

The world will never be perfect, but our goal shouldn’t be perfection. Our goal should be progress, peace and sustainability.

For more information on the Sustainable Development Goals, click here.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn
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Mel Wilson is a Partner and National Leader, Sustainable Business Solutions at PwC Canada. You can reach him here or follow him on twitter at @mjwcalgary