How 17 Companies Are Tackling Sustainable Development Goals (and Your Company Can, Too)

09/13/2016 01:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Photo: Students compete in the 2015 Tech Challenge, a hands-on learning opportunity supported in part by Microsoft YouthSpark.

One year ago this month, when the United Nations adopted 17 goals as part of an ambitious plan to combat the world's biggest problems, UN representatives were blunt: They wouldn't get very far in the next 15 years without the private sector.

Introduced as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals aim to wipe out extreme poverty, fight inequality, and tackle climate change. But UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has framed the SDGs not as a lofty vision, but as a practical opportunity for companies to deliver global solutions.

"The case is clear. Realizing the Sustainable Development Goals will improve the environment for doing business and building markets," he said at a forum last year.

As world leaders gather once again to discuss the goals, it's an opportune moment to analyze how companies have already embraced them and consider how your company can support an SDG that aligns with its core activities, if it hasn't already.

It isn't just about philanthropy, or corporate social responsibility. It's smart business. Consumers and employees expect companies to be authentic, transparent, and responsive to community needs.

"The brands that have not yet caught on to this, and are not thinking about how they will embed environmental and social sustainability within their business model, will not be around in the next 50 years," Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever Keith Weed wrote in The Guardian.

If your company is struggling to define its role in achieving SDGs, there are a few steps you can take to get started. Try surveying your employees and customers to see what's most important to them. They have invaluable insights about what's happening in the communities where they live and work, and they're your most visible brand ambassadors.

Online tools can also help you map out a custom plan. Check out the SDG Indicator Wizard to match keywords in your company's mission statement with SDG goals, or the SDG Compass, which includes a free inventory of tools that will help your company align its strategies with the SDGs. GlobalGiving also maintains a list of vetted nonprofits that are SDG-focused and in need of corporate support.

Still searching for inspiration? Here is a list of 17 SDGs and 17 companies that are doing their part to make the world a better place.

    1. NO POVERTY

2. ZERO HUNGER

General Mills gives meals to local food banks.

3. GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

Kaiser Permanente invests in healthy communities.

4. QUALITY EDUCATION

LEGO funds children's play, learning, and creativity.

5. GENDER EQUALITY

Participant Media teaches students worldwide about Malala.

6. CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION

Kimberly-Clark recognizes that toilets change lives.

7. AFFORDABLE AND CLEAN ENERGY

Cummins is investing in solar power.

8. DECENT WORK AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

Microsoft YouthSpark helps young people develop computer skills.

9. INDUSTRY, INNOVATION, AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Qualcomm brings wireless technology to underserved communities.

10. REDUCED INEQUALITIES

11. SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES

Siemens celebrates communities that foster green and sustainable economic solutions.

12. RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION

Nike uses recycled materials in most of its gear.

13. CLIMATE ACTION

JetBlue teaches customers and crew about climate change.

14. LIFE BELOW WATER

Discovery Channel supports clean oceans.

15. LIFE ON LAND

The North Face protects outdoor areas.

16. PEACE, JUSTICE, AND STRONG INSTITUTIONS

17. PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE GOALS

TripAdvisor partners with GlobalGiving to identify and support
with SDG-focused missions.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or, officially, "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development"). The SDGs represent an historic agreement -- a wide-ranging roadmap to sustainability covering 17 goals and 169 targets -- but stakeholders must also be held accountable for their commitments. To see all the posts in the series, visit here.