What Are Sustainability Goals and Why Do They Matter?

Humanity’s actions have reached a pivotal point in terms of altering the Earth’s regenerative capacities. This time is called the Anthropocene, referring to the strength of humanity’s impact on the planet since the beginning of the Industrial Era. A variety of cascading effects on ecosystem services are occurring due to the rapid depletion of resources that humanity has been reliant upon globally. According to the Brundtland Commission report of 1987, “sustainable development seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future.” Sustainability strives for balance, recognizing that economic, social, and ecological issues require governmental progress to the same degree to obtain holistic progress.

Essentially, there is an imperative necessity for contact zones that transcend political boundaries and cultural divisions, which requires sharing, distributing, and differentiating agency with multiple actors to shape the world’s destiny. Fortunately, the establishment of these integrative spaces is becoming easier due to globalization, bringing together the voices of various stakeholders in the form of multi-narrative views that intertwine diversity and pluralism. The United Nations is an example of such cooperation, having created seventeen sustainable development goals that call upon all countries to work toward changing our planet to achieve peace, prosperity, efficiency, and environmental protection globally.


  1. No Poverty: Advocates inclusive economic growth as a means to provide sustainable employment opportunities and to promote equality.
  2. Zero Hunger: Focuses on developing the food and agricultural sector in a manner that alleviates hunger and eradicates poverty.
  3. Good Health and Wellbeing: Recognizes the importance of ensuring healthy lives.
  4. Quality Education: Strives to provide all populations with access to quality education systems.
  5. Gender Equality: Strives to ensure that both sexes in all populations receive equal rights, opportunities, and responsibilities in life.
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation: Focuses on providing accessible and clean water sources for all.
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy: Advocates the use of renewable energy sources.
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth: Requires societies to work on creating job markets that provide all populations with employment opportunities under safe conditions.
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Invests in innovative projects that provide various industries with more infrastructure.
  10. Reduced Inequalities: Pays attention to the needs of marginalized and disadvantaged populations.
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities: Strives to create clean cities with accessible services, transportation, energy, and housing.
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production: Focuses on establishing green supply chains and advocates responsible consumption habits.
  13. Climate Action: Encourages environmental activism and awareness.
  14. Life below Water: Strives to manage marine and freshwater resources in a manner that maintains aquatic biodiversity and that promotes responsible waste disposal methods.
  15. Life on Land: Strives to manage forest resources in a manner that prevents degradation, desertification, and biodiversity loss.
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Seeks to provide all populations with strong and accountable justice systems.
  17. Partnerships: Encourages cooperative efforts through the establishment of inclusive and strong partnerships on both local and global scales.

In an effort to monitor statistical progress toward such goals, Canada created a Sustainable Development Goals Data Hub. In addition, the government has focused on establishing 13 sustainability goals that are specific to the country’s environmental needs, which are presented within an action plan document called A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada 2019 to 2022.


  1. Effective Action on Climate Change: Strives to achieve a low carbon economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.
  2. Greening Government: Focuses on transitioning the Government of Canada toward the development and the use of low carbon, climate-resilient, and green operations.
  3. Clean Growth: Supports innovative efforts within the clean technology industry.
  4. Modern and Resilient Infrastructure: Invests in green infrastructure to strengthen clean economic growth and social inclusion.
  5. Clean Energy: Focuses on providing Canadians with access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy sources.
  6. Healthy Coasts and Oceans: Strives to conserve and to manage coastal and marine areas in a manner that supports healthy, resilient, and productive ecosystems.
  7. Pristine Lakes and Rivers: Strives to achieve sustainable waste management within freshwater areas for health and economic prosperity.
  8. Sustainably Managed Lands and Forests: Aims to help land and forest areas thrive to ensure biodiversity growth and future access to ecosystem services.
  9. Healthy Wildlife Populations: Focuses on ensuring that all wildlife species have healthy and viable populations.
  10. Clean Drinking Water: Strives to provide access to clean drinking water for all Canadians and Indigenous communities.
  11. Sustainable Food: Encourages innovation and ingenuity within the food and agricultural sector for sustainable growth.
  12. Connecting Canadians with Nature: Encourages Canadians to engage in environmental awareness through educational opportunities for conservation and stewardship.
  13. Safe and Healthy Communities: Strives to create clean and sustainable communities to protect the health and wellbeing of all Canadians.

Overall, these UN and Canadian goals describe and acknowledge the broader issues with our global and national societies. The consideration of issues on a microeconomic scale is necessary to provide a comprehensive picture of how to achieve these goals on a macroeconomic scale. Local scale empowerment can be examined through community economic development (CED). CED seeks “to encourage the participation of community members, including those who are often marginalized, in planning and decision-making” (5). These members can provide context involving community capacity, which “is the combination of a community’s resources and commitment that can be used to build on community strengths, seize opportunities and address community problems” (5). Multi-stakeholder input from all societal sectors and scales gives governing bodies the ability to discover the many variables that can affect the achievement of sustainability in varying locations across a country. Realistic solutions can then be derived by considering the social, economic, and environmental strengths and limitations within such different areas.  Achieving sustainability requires inclusivity!


  1. Canada, Government of. (2019). Achieving a sustainable future: A Federal Sustainable Development Strategy for Canada 2019 to 2022. Environment and Climate Change Department. URL: http://www.fsds-sfdd.ca/downloads/FSDS_2019-2022.pdf
  2. Hamilton, C. (2017). Chapter 3 Friends and Adversaries. In Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene. (pp. 76-111). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press.
  3. Latour, B. (2014). Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene. New Literary History, 45(1), 1-18. DOI: 10.1353/nhl.2014.0003
  4. Kjellén, B. (2004). Diplomacy and governance for sustainability in a partially globalised world. In Environmental Values in a Globalising World: Nature, Justice, and Governance. (pp. 179-196). London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
  5. McIlveen, K., and B. Bradshaw. (2009). Community forestry in British Columbia, Canada: the role of local community support and participation. Local Environment, 14(2), 193-205. DOI: 10.1080/13549830802522087
  6. Steffan, W., Persson, A., Deutsch, L., Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Richardson, K., Crumley, C., Crutzen, P., Folke, C., Gordon, L., Molina, M., Ramanathan, V., Rockström, J., Scheffer, M., Schellnhuber, H. J., and U. Svedin. (2011). The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Stewardship. Ambio, 40(7), 739-761. DOI: 10.1007/s13280-011-0185-x
  7. United Nations. About the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goals. URL: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

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