The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
Our research articles this week look at progress made so far.

Network governance for collective action in implementing the SDGs
As the number of complex transnational problems have continued to grow, so too has the desire to combat them through global partnerships and collective action.

In response, the United Nations and member states created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. This study provides a background on international organisations and efforts in collectively moving towards sustainable development goals. It examines the SDGs (specific emphasis on Food–Energy–Water (FEW) Nexus) and means of governance and implementation at the global level. It also seeks to describe and visualise partnerships and collective action using network analysis tools and techniques.

The network visualisation demonstrates the organisations working together and towards the SDGs, which provides the type of structure and key actors and arrangements for implementation at the global stage.

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Kapucu, N. & Beaudet, S. 2020. Network Governance for Collective Action in Implementing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Administrative Science, 10(4), 100

Projection of SDGs in codes of ethics
The United Nations’ (UN) drive for sustainability culminates in a recent milestone document, Agenda 2030, which sets forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Arguably, these SDGs inspire governments more than they do individual businesses and their embracement and measurement at the business level faces a myriad of shortcomings.

A case study of internal declaratory documents about sustainability and other ethical commitments, such as codes of ethics, represents a feasible platform to collect fresh and inside primary data about the projection of SDGs in these codes of ethics, and ultimately in the strategy and daily operations of involved businesses. The representativeness of the sample of 30 businesses is ensured by the size of these businesses, their inter-related nature, and significance in the EU. A holistic approach, along with meta-analysis, comparison, and a combination of automatic keyword-based content analysis and of a manual simplified Delphi-method, allows for the addressing of both underlying burning questions—(i) how SDGs are projected in these codes of ethics and (ii) why not in a perfect manner.

The main five findings point out the deep conceptual misunderstandings and shortcomings by businesses, which do not properly work with their codes of ethics, and which could take at least partially the SDG’s guidance. These rather pioneering propositions are not conclusive, due to the inherent and inevitable limitations of the performed case study, and need to be verified over time (longitudinally), while expanding the pool of studied codes of ethics.

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Balcerzak, A.P. & Pelikánová, R.M. 2020. Projection of SDGs in Codes of Ethics—Case Study about Lost in Translation.

Administrative Science, 10(4), 95

New business model to measure organisational and project-level impact of the SDGs
Achievement of the United Nations’ 2030 Global Goals for Sustainability is of paramount importance. However, for engineers and project managers to take meaningful action, they need the practical tools, processes and leadership to turn grand rhetoric into viable engineering solutions. Linking infrastructure project sustainability performance to sustainable development goals (SDG) targets is problematic.

This article builds on the previous development of an innovative infrastructure business model, called the “Infrastructure SDG Impact-Value Chain” (IVC) to link local-level project delivery with global-level SDG impacts. It uses a case study of a water utility company to demonstrate how the IVC business model can integrate the “triple bottom line” to ensure the balanced definition of success across economic, environmental and social thematic areas.

The results led to a proposed methodology for business leaders to align stakeholders on a common definition of project success during the design phase. The study includes the selection of longer-term outcomes and strategic SDG impacts, which, it is suggested, are improved definitions of project success. Although the findings that are from a single case study cannot automatically be extended to the entire water industry, the study’s methodology has potential to be used to evaluate multiple projects across different sectors.

The practical application is significant since it offers the flexibility to be used at both project and portfolio levels, thereby linking tactical delivery to organisational SDG impacts and leading to improved investment decisions with increased likelihood of success in achieving the SDG 2030 targets.

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Mansell, P., Philbin, S.P. & Broyd, T. 2020. Development of a New Business Model to Measure Organizational and Project-Level SDG Impact—Case Study of a Water Utility Company.

Sustainability, 12, 6413.

Harvesting synergy when SDGs interact
As countries pursue sustainable development across sectors as diverse as health, agriculture, and infrastructure, sectoral policies interact, generating synergies that alter their effectiveness. Identifying those synergies ex ante facilitates the harmonisation of policies and provides an important lever to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

However, identifying and quantifying these synergetic interactions are infeasible with traditional approaches to policy analysis. In this paper, the authors present a method for identifying synergies and assessing them quantitatively. The authors also introduce a typology of 5 classes of synergies that enables an understanding of their causal structures. The authors operationalise the typology in pilot studies of SDG strategies undertaken in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, and Malawi. In the pilots, the integrated SDG (iSDG) model was used to simulate the effects of policies over the SDG time horizon and to assess the contributions of synergies. Synergy contributions to overall SDG performance were 7% for Côte d’Ivoire, 0.7% for Malawi, and 2% for Senegal.

The authors estimate the value of these contributions to be 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) for Côte d’Ivoire, 0.4% for Malawi, and 0.7% for Senegal. The authors conclude that enhanced understanding of synergies in sustainable development planning can contribute to progress on the SDGs—and free substantial amounts of resources.

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Matteo Pedercini, Steve Arquitt, David Collste & Hans Herren. 2019. Harvesting synergy from sustainable development goal interactions.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(46), 23021-23028.

SDGs at the organisation and project levels
The United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to deliver an improved future for people, planet and profit. However, they have not gained the required traction at the business and project levels.

This article explores how engineers rate and use the SDGs at the organisational and project levels. It adopts the Realist Evaluation’s Context–Mechanism–Outcomes model to critically evaluate practitioners’ views on using SDGs to measure business and project success. The study addresses the thematic areas of sustainability and business models through the theoretical lens of Creating Shared Value and the Triple Bottom Line. A survey of 325 engineers indicated four primary shortfalls for measuring SDGs on infrastructure projects, namely (1) leadership, (2) tools and methods, (3) engineers’ business skills in measuring SDG impact and (4) how project success is too narrowly defined as outputs (such as time, cost and scope) and not outcomes (longer-term local impacts and stakeholder value).

The research study is of value to researchers developing business models that address the SDGs and also practitioners in the construction industry who seek to link their investment decisions to the broader outcomes of people, planet and profit through the UN SDGs.

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Mansell, P., Philbin, S. & Konstantinou, E. 2020. Redefining the Use of Sustainable Development Goals at the Organisation and Project Levels—A Survey of Engineers.

Administrative Science, 10(3), 55