Sustainable Development Goals and the housing sector: A change is coming

March 16, 2018


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer enormous opportunities for society, businesses and the planet. They are particularly applicable to the housing sector, with its emphasis on community, placemaking and wellbeing. So, why should organisations in the housing sector and the supply chain engage with the SDGs and how can they go about it?

What are the SDGs?

The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of universal targets set by the UN. Building upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expired in 2015, they provide an overarching global plan for achieving a prosperity, peace and resilience worldwide. The goals include ending poverty, reducing inequality and providing sustainable environments. The deadline for achieving them is 2030.

Who do the SDGs apply to?

Everyone! Public bodies, private corporations and charitable organisations all have a role to play in working towards the SDGs. For housing associations they are particularly relevant because of associations’ core focus on social purpose. A framework built around the SDGs can ensure that organisations’ activities all ultimately improve conditions for society and the environment.

Unlike the previous MDGs, the SDGs are not focused on ‘developing countries’. Instead they have global relevance. For example, the commitment to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ encompasses fuel poverty and deprivation widely experienced here in the UK.

Why commit to the SDGs?

After the Paris Agreement (2015), ethical, responsible and sustainable business is no longer a loose aspiration. As consumers become more aware of the impact of their purchasing decisions and behaviour; their impact on the planet; and the social impacts of international supply chains, businesses now have an obligation to deliver in an ethical and sustainable way.

There are several direct benefits of committing to the SDGs:

  • Economic growth – the SDGs offer a compelling growth strategy for organisations. A recent study[1] found that the Goals could open up $12trn of business opportunities for the global economy. The Goals help drive innovation, identify efficiency gains and open up new opportunities.
  • Reputation – the Goals provide a framework and indicate a commitment to transparency, reliability and sustainability. This can help attract employees, customers and investors.
  • Social impact – most organisations today recognise that they can do more than generate profit; rather, they have huge potential for positive social impact. Nowhere is this truer than for Housing Associations, which have a social purpose at the core of their business. The SDGs help ensure that businesses’ individual positive actions align with the global vision for a healthier, fairer, more inclusive planet.
  • Environmental security – as the impact of climate change and environmental degradation increases, our reliance on natural services becomes ever more apparent. By protecting and enhancing our environment today, we can safeguard vital services including clean air, clean water and biodiversity for the future.
  • Diversity – evidence shows that more diverse organisations perform better[2]. By committing to equality and diversity, businesses can boost their creativity, their financial performance and the contentment of employees.

How to commit to the SDGs

Embedding the SDGs into your corporate strategy and policy is a key way to crystallise and publicise your commitment. Throughout the process of incorporating the SDGs, we recommend that you engage everyone within your organisation, from clients and employees to executive officers and board members. Appointing a steering group from services across the business can help to build momentum, and also enables anyone trying to integrate the goals to ‘talk the language’ of their colleagues and align their business priorities to the goals. Ensure that SMART goals relating to the SDGs are set from the outset; this will help to ensure that progress is measurable over time.

Some of the goals will relate more obviously to your organisation’s practices than others, but they are not optional and all 17 goals must be aligned into your strategy. Initially it is best to focus on  on the areas in which you have the most potential to make a difference and which could be considered your organisation’s ‘low hanging fruit’.

We recommend that you take the following approach:

  • Easy to do – identify the goals that can be aligned quickest to your organisation’s strategy and priorities
  • A little harder, but worth it – next identify those goals that will require some stakeholder engagement across your organisation
  • Harder still, but biggest impact – these goals will take the most effort to find alignment and may require a step change in how an organisation operates. Identify these early on as these will require the most work in terms of engagement

Below is a suggestion of how the SDGs can be grouped and linked to your business activities. The goals are intentionally designed to interact, so inevitably there will be areas of overlap between them.

For residents and their homes

For new build and retrofit

Organisational goals


What is Sustainable Homes doing about the SDGs?

Here at Sustainable Homes we will be aligning our own policies to the SDGs over the next 12 months. We are starting by ensuring diversity and gender balance at our events and improving our events’ overall sustainability. Below is a small snapshot of some of the areas we will be focusing on initially. Look out for updates on our progress against the SMART targets we will be setting in upcoming blogs.


Interested in aligning your organisation with the SDGs? We will be providing support and advice over the coming year including blogs, webinars, events and useful tools. Click the button below to stay up to date on the guidance and opportunities we are offering.

We are members of UKSSD

Sustainable Homes provides expert advice on aligning your organisation’s policies to the Sustainable Development Goals.  Talk to Cecily Church (0208 973 0386) or Bevan Jones (0208 973 0420) to find out more.



[1] Better Business Better World: The Report of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission 2017

[2] E.g. Diversity Matters, McKinsey & Company 2015; Innovation, Diversity and Market Growth, Centre for Talent Innovation 2013

Cecily Church