3 steps to align your sustainability strategy to the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals are important for the future of tourism. Learn how to align your business strategy and contribute to the agenda 2030.
3 steps to align your sustainability strategy to the SDGs

Sustainability to ensure competitivity

Success is no longer dictated by profit alone. The professional world widely recognises the need to also address social and environmental concerns. Mainly through business practices that account for a targeted sustainability strategy. Therefore, sustainability principles and practices are required to ensure a business remains competitive.

However, many organisations don’t know where to start when it comes to implementing sustainability. Let alone align to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this article, we provide you with the basic guidelines to align your sustainability strategy to the SDGs.

“Success is no longer dictated by profit alone”

Step 1: Understand the Sustainable Development Goals

Let’s begin with a short introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals. They are also known as the SDGs and often referenced to as ‘Agenda 2030’. In 2015, the United Nations adopted a plan to achieve a better future for all. To end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and to protect our planet.

At the heart of Agenda 2030 are the 17 Goals. They clearly define a series of ambitious achievements that indicates all nations are on equal standing, leaving no one behind. Therefore, they predicted that if not only governments, but also the private industry got involved, these 17 goals could be achieved over the next 15 years.

Sustainable Development Goals

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Tourism framework

It’s clear that these ambitions take a huge effort by all sectors in society. Businesses have to play a very important role in the process. This also goes for the tourism industry. The UNWTO developed the journey for the tourism industry to implement sustainability into their strategy and operations.

Tourism businesses can take advantage of the world agenda and SDGs and become a front runner in sustainable tourism. The SDGs can be framed as an overarching framework when connected to sustainable operations and strategies. This enables them to do their part and to convey to the market that they value social and environmental concerns, besides profit.

Getting started

Over the years, many business owners came to me stating they don’t know where to start. Especially when it comes to developing a sustainability strategy, let alone align the SDG’s. Many of them are concerned about social or environmental issues. They also realised that today’s market is no longer about profit alone. It’s about giving back.

So, when figuring out ‘where to start’, know that you most probably already have! You are reading this, and by the time you are finished you will be able to develop an authentic sustainability strategy that aligns with the SDGs. The basic starting point is to follow an authentic strategy how you will approach the alignment. Be mindful of the following principles:

  • Develop a framework for implementing sustainability principles
  • Express your social and environmental concerns
  • Avoid impact-washing and green-washing

Step 2: Understand its targets and indicators

The targets are the most important aspect of the SDGs, as they indicate whether or not the goals are reached. There are 169 targets listed in support of the 17 SDGs. And how do we know if the targets are being met? Well, that’s the function of the Indicators. There are 241 indicators listed in association with the SDGs. Every target has at least 1 Indicator.

Use this database of the UN for a clear overview of the SDG indicators per target.

Example case: SDG 11

To make it easier to understand the structure, let’s take SDG 11 as an example. This goal refers to making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. For SDG 11, tourism is linked with the:

  • Renewal of traditional villages
  • Promotion of quality products
  • Development of short supply chains
  • Facilitation of market access for small producers

SDG 11 has 10 targets assigned to it. For example, target 11.4 mainly corresponds with the tourism industry. It aims to ‘strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage’. The indicator that measures this target is the “total per capita expenditure on the preservation, protection and conservation of all cultural and natural heritage”.

Want to learn more about the SDGs relevant to the tourism industry?

Selecting targets

The indicators are set up so the United Nations can measure whether or not the targets are being met. They are formulated in the most relevant way, meaning there might be other ways to measure if the target is successful.

When you select your targets, don’t get discouraged when you look at the indicators. Because doing this, you might realise your product or services do not entirely match the criteria. The Indicators can be tricky. They can either really help with clarity or potentially start to confuse you. So instead, let the targets guide you to develop your business’s sustainable strategy.

Step 3: Align your business with the SDGs

When it comes to aligning to the SDGs, you need to think in terms of targets. So, as let the following 2 questions guide you:

  1. What do we offer?
  2. What are the values and demands of our stakeholders?

1. What do we offer?

Defining what you offer helps you identify what targets your business aligns to. Think about the following aspects:

  • Current products and services
  • Business purpose and strategy
  • Tone of voice in your marketing strategy

What do you offer?

2. What are the values and demands of our stakeholders?

For the second question, this may take some investigating. Answering this question enables you to convey your sustainability strategy to your market. Craft your messaging in accordance with the targets. Think about the following questions:

  • Who is your target group? And what are their values?
  • What are the values of your employees? And what drives them?
  • What challenges exist in the communities you operate in or out of?
  • Who do you partner or collaborate with? Do they add value to your branding or is it possible they have the opposite effect?
  • Examine your entire supply chain to investigate opportunities to align with SDGs

Values and demands of your stakeholders

Contribute to the Agenda 2030

Now that you went through these 3 steps, you have a better idea of how to align the SDGs to your business. How you can improve your sustainability performance. Select those SDGs that fit your current purpose and values. Then select those targets that already match with your current products and services.

Remember that not all SDGs might be relevant for your business. It’s your task to select those that fit your current purpose and values, and those of your stakeholders. In the end, it’s all about how you contribute to the sustainable future of tourism. The SDGs are simply here to guide you.


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Good Tourism Institute: sustainable today, travel tomorrow

Roadmap to sustainable travel success (free Ebook)

Discover 6 proven paths to best-selling sustainable travel experiences.