Linking the UN Sustainable Development Goals to product-level impact information

Main Presenter: Shaniq Pillay 

Co-Authors: Rosan Harmens

While the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prove to be a relevant compass for governments, they are less relevant for businesses. So far, concrete methodologies that link product-level impact with the SDGs have been lacking. This was the starting point for the two approaches that link LCA and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), developed with support from the UNEP Life Cycle Initiative and a number of companies. After three years, the main structure of the approaches, and all 17 of the LCA-to-SDG linking documents are now finalized, and have been tested in case studies with industry partners. The final methodology and most important learnings about the links between LCA and the SDGs will form the focus of the presentation.

Having linked all 17 SDGs with LCA provided some interesting conclusions. In general it is seen that the SDGs have a strong social focus. Most goals relate strongly to social impact categories and fewer relate directly to environmental topics. This shows the importance of effective social systems in forwarding the sustainability agenda, and perhaps the focus of the SDGs on enhancing human quality of life and building better societal/governance systems as a goal. Furthermore, the project pointed out a number of specific social and environmental LCA categories that seem crucial for the overall achievement of the SDGs, since many links were identified. Next to that, a number of SDGs have only a few links with LCA, which suggests that these are more difficult to influence at the level of product lifecycles.

The methodology builds upon the well-established basis of the LCA approach: goal and scope, inventory analysis, impact assessment and interpretation. Links between environmental and social LCA impact categories to the SDGs are established on a target level. In the final stage of the project, findings concerning relative importance of the links have been incorporated.

The method was applied to the specific products of our industry partners in three case studies In the goal and scope phase, companies selected the SDGs they want to analyze. This allowed them to understand how they contribute to that goal, to monitor and increase their positive contribution over time, and to communicate about their contribution. On the one hand, the case studies helped to address shortfalls and learn from feedback to make further improvements. On the other hand, this exercise provided the companies with relevant insights about their SDG contribution on product level.

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