MAKING THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS WORK FOR SMALL BUSINESS
Updated: Jul 23
Ethical fashion. Eco-jewellery. Fair trade products. Responsibly sourced. All sounds good, right? Over the last few years, there has been an explosion in the number of brands promoting themselves as all of these things. But how many of these brands can truly be considered sustainable?
When thinking about impact or sustainability, most brands focus inwards – analysing the inner workings of their business model:
Where do my materials come from?
How are my pieces manufactured?
What’s my carbon footprint?
These are great starting points (and ones we should all be tackling, right?!), but they are one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Running a truly sustainable business means going beyond our day-to-day activities. It requires us to think about our values, our business as a whole, our wider impact on the world and our sphere of influence.
At first glance, the goals feel pretty daunting, and they've certainly been tailored to big businesses. However, they can also provide a framework for smaller brands to explore innovative ways of working, empowering, or giving.
We've brought five of the goals to life below with examples from brands already embracing them. They aim to inspire you to develop a more outwardly focused strategy that will benefit your brand and the world around it. Ideas for all 17 of the Goals can be downloaded from our resources page.
Goal 1 - No Poverty
This Goal asks us all to think about how we can reduce poverty. Brands like Yala Jewellery and SOKO Kenya have chosen to work directly with the people in their supply chains to empower them to improve their livelihoods. It would have been much easier for these brands to source from traditional suppliers, but instead, they've chosen to do something extraordinary. According to Yala, one of the workshops they work with:
‘Enables its artisans to look after themselves and their families, as well as neighbours and friends who are dependent on them. In total, their work has a positive impact on over 300 households in the area’.
Could part of your collection be made by disadvantaged people? If you aren't able to work directly with producers, could you explore opportunities to work with NGOs that do? Both the Fairtrade certification scheme and the Fairmined standard for gold both aim to support people out of poverty.
Goal 5 - Gender Equality
One way you can support gender equality is to commit to the UN Women's Empowerment Principals. These are 7 actions that advance and empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community.
Jewellery brand, Swarovski has brought them to life through their work with BSR’s (Business for Social Responsibility) HERproject. For example, one project trained women in their supply chain on health issues, and empowered them to share their knowledge with their peers.
You don’t have to employ hundreds of people to put equality on your brand’s agenda. Have a look at how Purpose Jewellery support women who have escaped human trafficking to ‘find hope, dignity and freedom for the future’.
Goal 8 - Decent Work and Economic Empowerment
Here's some inspiration for Goal 8: Jewellery brand Little by Little's business model goes way beyond making jewellery. The team have established a charitable partnership with Luminary Bakeries. Every piece of Little by Little jewellery sold provides a disadvantaged woman with a career-boosting day of training at the bakery to help build employment skills and experience.
Your brand's support for the goals doesn't have to directly link to fashion and jewellery to be beneficial to all involved. Could your brand partner with other local businesses or groups to improve someone’s access to work?
Goal 12 - Responsible Consumption & Production
Choosing more sustainable materials, such as certified recycled or artisanal metals, is obviously crucial for this goal. As is having a supplier code-of-conduct to ensure you are working with responsible manufacturers.
But what about the rest of your business? Why not conduct a waste audit to see what you are wasting and why. Then find ways to reduce, reuse & recycle.
Ellie Air Jewellery has found ways to produce better and consume less across their business: ensuring packaging is plastic-free and fully recyclable, minimising the use of hazardous chemicals in their workshop, making the business paperless where possible, and running their studio on renewable energy. What small changes could you make? Often making changes like this can create efficiencies in the way you work, resulting in cost savings. Win-win.
Goal 14 – Life Below Water
Now this one sounds tricky, especially for a clothing or jewellery business! But if you are passionate about protecting our oceans you can find a way to make a difference.
Have a look at how jewellery brand Alex Monroe supports Goal 14, through their Ocean’s Collection in partnership with Friends of the Earth. This project raises money for a cause that the brand is passionate about and educates its customers on the issue of plastic waste in our oceans. It’s also a great PR story for the brand. Another win-win!
Focusing on just one area of your business, or just one of the goals, does not mean you've created a sustainable brand. Thinking carefully about what you believe and where you can have the most positive impact across the goals will help you to build a strategy that leads to a truly sustainable way of working.
Your starting point might still be to look at where your materials come from or how your pieces are made, but perhaps through the choices you make you can contribute to reducing gender inequality, empowering others to find decent work, or even becoming an ocean warrior.
A version of this blog was originally published on the Fair Luxury website.