The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not just another set of goals or framework. These are a global call to action for human rights to all citizens worldwide. On October 10, 2018, RELX Group held an SDG Inspiration Day to discuss themes of innovative financing, new agriculture, dissemination of information and machine learning. Although the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has calculated that it will take US$5 to $7 trillion to achieve the SDGs, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission highlights that achieving the SDGs will create at least US$12 trillion in market opportunities because of advancements in innovation. So when a participant asked, “What is needed from us?”, Speaker Amanda Ellis, Executive Director of Hawaii and Asia Pacific at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, responded with three needs: 1) Technology for Good, 2) Global Connectivity, and 3) Scale Ideas and Innovations.
1. Technology for Good
With a target end date of year 2030 to achieve all 17 goals, we will have to deploy disruptive technology to help overcome barriers, change behaviors and provide access to resources. In many instances, the technology already exists, but we have to reimagine and redesign how to use it effectively for this purpose.
The Ray, a regenerative highway system run on solar energy, is an excellent example of technology advancing sustainable environmental impact. It has changed the infrastructure and land around 18 miles of West Georgia’s I-85 by making it a carbon net zero highway. Solar panels, paved into the highway itself, power the strip as well as multiple solar-powered vehicle charging units for electric cars. The Ray is also planting wheat along the highway to help cut down carbon in the air. Using this highway as a model, The Ray is testing its innovations and technology to change highways around the world to reduce the environmental damages they create.
2. Global Connectivity
Enhanced global connectivity is essential to achieving SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. As different organizations, funders, governments and civil society members work towards the SDG targets, it is more important than ever that all stakeholders work together to be more efficient with resources. The SDG Philanthropy Platform can act as a helpful tool to build networks and facilitate collaboration by giving organizations a platform to share lessons learned. Organizations can also use the Platform to connect with others who are doing similar work or working in the same geographies. The Platform helps optimize resources and efforts to achieve SDGs by giving stakeholders access to rich data and robust networks, while also facilitating partnerships and guidance needed to co-create and scale promising innovations. Through global connectivity, we can link efforts and sectors to design integrated approaches to promote sustainability when addressing the world’s challenges.
3. Scale Ideas and Innovations
Many innovative solutions exist but need to be amplified to help scale these ideas. Scaling helps accelerate impact to address the global challenges more quickly. The SDG Agenda 2030 is ambitious but great strides are made when stakeholders apply exponential thinking and use a transformative lens to cultivate positive social or environmental outcomes. Blue River Technology, for example, recognized that farmers spend approximately $25 billion each year in an attempt to control weeds. Due to the repetitive use of herbicides, more weeds are becoming resistant and crops were negatively affected. To combat this, Blue River Technology built a smart farm machine that uses recognition software to help detect weeds and use herbicide only on those plants. The smart farm machine helps eliminate about 90% of the herbicide that growers spray on average. To help scale this innovation, John Deere acquired the company about one year ago with plans to expand their market and help change the future of crops.
Together we can achieve the SDGs. As keynote speaker Dr. Nicholas Haan, Chair of Global Grand Challenges at Singularity University noted, “It’s going to take raw collaboration, courage, and compassion.” Collectively we can raise our ambitions in pursuit of what is possible for a world that focuses on economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.