The world on the way to more sustainability
Transforming the World – The Sustainable Development Goals, or the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", is a United Nations action plan designed to benefit people and the planet. What role do companies and politicians play in its implementation?
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the action plan proclaimed by the United Nations in 2015 and signed by all member states – takes into account social, economic and environmental aspects. It holds great potential for corresponding commitment – on the public side, but also on the private, e.g. corporate side. There is no question that commitment to people and the planet is worthwhile, not only for our own good conscience. Customers and the financial market now see it as a necessity for companies to commit to achieving the SDGs. This is mirrored in the companies' "sustainability reporting", which has become almost a matter of good form. Employees and applicants also increasingly consider the criterion "sustainability" to be important for their (potential) employer.
Many roads lead to sustainability
Companies can do a lot to help achieve the SDGs. As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it in 2015: “Business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals and communicate transparently about the results."
“Business is a vital partner in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Companies can contribute through their core activities, and we ask companies everywhere to assess their impact, set ambitious goals and communicate transparently about the results.”
With regard to implementation, the UN recommends in its SDGs Compass to start by outlining in detail the value chains in the company in order to name and localize impacts on the environment and health. It is then important to anchor the sustainability goals in the company and to embed them in all processes going forward.
Business models, products or services can also contribute to sustainable development, for example, in the form of innovative solutions that can shorten production times or reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, many industrial wastes can be efficiently recycled. In metal processing companies, for example, metal-containing process water is produced from which metals can be recovered and reused. Organic waste such as straw, wood or animal excrement can be used for biogas production. In many production plants, e.g. in bioethanol production, it comes to high CO2 emissions. Fixing and recycling this CO2 is another way of returning it to the material cycle. (Read the interview "Intelligent use of carbon dioxide" from the BRAIN magazine "Blickwinkel".)
If such recovery or recycling processes require a lot of energy and/or many (petroleum-based) chemicals, the idea of sustainability is taken ad absurdum. However, anyone who observes and analyses natural processes and metabolic pathways, e.g. of microorganisms, can find alternative, more gentle ways of feeding recyclable materials into a material cycle. The microbiologists at BRAIN do exactly this. They analyze microorganisms from BRAIN's proprietary collection of microorganisms (part of the BRAIN BioArchive) and take a very close look at them. Which enzymes do the microorganisms use to break down their substrates in order to produce energy and metabolic products that they need for their survival? Can this process be applied to the problem that an industrial company wants to solve? In research and development cooperation arrangements with global industrial partners, BRAIN has already implemented more than 100 projects for more sustainability.
The role of biotechnology in the SDGs
The importance of biotechnology and hence the transition towards the bioeconomy and the achievement of the SDGs in Germany can be seen from the ministries that have meanwhile taken up the issue. Besides the two ministries in charge – the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) – the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) have also set themselves corresponding goals. As far back as 2010, under the leadership of BMBF, the Federal Government had already adopted the National Bioeconomy Strategy and placed it on an interdepartmental footing. BMEL followed suit in 2013. In January 2020, the Federal Cabinet adopted a new National Bioeconomy Strategy following an evaluation and recommendations by the German Bioeconomy Council. In this strategy, the Federal Government combines its previous activities on the bioeconomy and sets the course for its further development.
Countries around the world that have signed the SDGs have their hands full if they want to meet their declared commitment. This involves ending poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality and promoting economic growth – while simultaneously combating climate change and preserving oceans and forests. The experience of the corona pandemic will also influence the implementation of SDGs in the future – hopefully not only in a negative way.
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