Sustainable Development Goals

Big Question: How do we know whether we make progress on justice, inclusion, and sustainability?

Time Commitment: 45 minutes

Reflection Question: Think about a community in which you have lived (domestic, international, home or school) and identify some of the community challenges. Who has the problems and who has the solutions for that community?

Diving In, Part 1: Sustainable Development Goals and Their Origins

Nations gathered from around the world in Brazil in 2012 and launched a commitment to The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) –a set of targets that aim to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. Here’s an overview of the goals coupled with an invitation to take part in a set of courses on SDGs developed through the SDG Academy:

The SDG Academy is an excellent resource. The pages here will continue to emphasize individual, community-based, and civic efforts that play important action-oriented and activist roles in advancing progress on SDGs in local contexts. But even in local contexts, it’s extremely helpful to have frameworks that help us embrace the insight that human prosperity must go hand in hand with protecting the planet. Here are all seventeen goals together:

The multi color grid depicts the The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs):
GOAL 1 No Poverty
GOAL 2 Zero Hunger
GOAL 3 Good Health and Well-being
GOAL 4 Quality Education
GOAL 5 Gender Equality
GOAL 6 Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7 Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10 Reduced Inequality
GOAL 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12 Responsible Consumption and Production
GOAL 13 Climate Action
GOAL 14 Life Below Water
GOAL 15 Life on Land
GOAL 16 Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
GOAL 17 Partnerships to achieve the Goal
via United Nations

The goals urge us to think across boundaries, to integrate economic development, social progress, and environmental protection, together.

Reflection Question: Would any of the UN SDG goals address the challenges in the communities where you have lived? Who holds the solutions to these local issues? Who is leading the efforts there?

Pope Francis recognized the value in this holistic orientation in an address where he observed,

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” 

Take six minutes to view this overview of the SDGs from CAFOD, an international development charity and the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

SDGs Video via CAFOD

Three key concepts make the SDGs vital:

  • Interlinkages – The changing climate, conflict, inequality, persistent pockets of poverty and hunger, rapid urbanization, and environmental degradation are not separate or separable concerns. They flow into one another, as observed in UN reporting on the goals.
  • Scalable adoption and application at the local, community, national and international level.
  • Evaluation and assessment – The SDGs take our ideals and convert them to specific metrics. Those goals and metrics also grow from insights gained through fifteen years of work with the Millennium Development Goals, which showed that shared targets across governments can serve to organize and mobilize resources productively. Check out some of the metrics of interest – and progress already underway – in this brief video:

Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative provides a robust explanation of how helpful shared data and – even more importantly – goals can be in the pursuit of more just, inclusive, and sustainable structures. As he points out in the Ted Talk below, GDP (gross domestic product, or a country’s wealth) is not destiny. What if every country leveraged its wealth to contribute to the well-being of its citizens and the protection of the environment? Take 15 minutes to view the video:

On the Social Progress Index, the United States ranks 8th in GDP per capita, but falls to 26th in terms of social progress per capita. In other words, it is a strong under-performer. Find out more about the ranking system, and compare with other countries, here.

Reflection Question: How could the Sustainable Development Goals be applied to work that matters to you? What connections can be made to your discipline, your passions or the communities where you have lived?

Within the pages of this website, we point to numerous local, national and international civil society organizations putting pressure on government and business structures to advance the goals of justice, inclusion, and sustainability. SDG Progress is one excellent way to measure our shared successes and challenges.

This can also work from the bottom up as local actions are mapped to goals of the SDG’s to advance local community level targets.To begin to consider the role of the Sustainable Development Goals in local action, this workshop outcomes summary from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), with the Ford Foundation, Office of the Mayor of New York City, and 100 Resilient Cities on SDG localization provides insight.

Reflection Question: In your community, what organizations are putting pressure on government systems to create plans and  policies that advance justice, inclusion, and sustainability that could benefit from the use of the UN SDGs?

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • UN Sustainable Development Goals 
  • Mapping local actions and outcomes back to the UNSDG’s.
  • The interconnectedness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • The continuous feedback loop between local actions and experiences and national and international policies and goals

Please share feedback on this page by taking this 5-question survey. Thank you!

Next: Interdependence: Wrap-Up

Citation for this page: Lyons, L., Brandauer, S., & Hartman, E. (2020). Sustainable Development Goals. In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from


Social Progress Imperative. (2019). 2019 Social Progress Index. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

The SDG Academy. (n.d.). SDG Academy Library. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

United Nations. (n.d.). United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

United Nations. (2018). The Sustainable Development Goals Report. Retrieved from

United Nations Division for Sustainable Development Goals Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (n.d.). Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

CAFOD. (2016, August 16). The Sustainable Development Goals – Action Towards 2030 | CAFOD and SDGs [Video file]. Retrieved from

TED. (2015, November 3). How We Can Make the World a Better Place by 2030 | Michael Green | TED Talks [Video file]. Retrieved from

The Global Goals. (2016, September 20). Numbers In Action [Video file]. Retrieved from

The SDG Academy. (2016, September 19). The SDG Academy Trailer [Video file]. Retrieved from