Why the United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Goals are worth talking about

8th December 2020

The UN's 17 Sustainability Development Goals are helping businesses to work on improving global health, inequality, climate and the environment. Better water management is integral to that. 

The United Nations has sometimes been accused of being a purely political organization in which countries can use the world podium to boldly express their negative views against other countries for the benefit of their own...but this is one that they got spot on.

In September 2015 the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that cut across a variety of disciplines.

Those disciplines are:

  1. No Poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and Well Being
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships

At first read, this sounds like a very noble series of broad undefined, unattainable goals that a cynic might interpret as being intended to make the implementing party feel good about what they did but without any real impact. 

But what is very interesting is how many major corporations have not only accepted these 17 SDGs but also have embraced them and made them an integral part of their brand. And not just quietly, but publicly and openly. 

Take, for example ABInBev, one of the largest food and beverage companies in the universe. In a bold move, ABInBev adopted the slogan “Sustainability Is Our Business” and has set specific sustainability goals for 2025 for Smart Agriculture, Water Stewardship, Circular Packaging and Climate Action. They then posted these goals, modeled after the UN SDGs on their website, and are tracking the results publicly for the world to see. 

Instead of being defensive about their corporate culture regarding the environment, ABInBev has changed their corporate culture and gone on the offensive to develop a sustainability plan with specific goals, measuring the progress of the corporation against the goals and publishing the results on their website. 


ABInBev has gone on the offensive to develop a sustainability plan with specific goals, measuring the progress of the corporation against the goals and publishing the results.

By doing so, ABInBev has become a world corporate leader in sustainability making it not just part of their brand, but part of their identity as a corporation; even to the extent of advertising their intentions in the 2020 Super Bowl commercials they aired. 

And this corporate culture trickled down to spending money on projects with a sustainability value like renewable energy projects and wastewater effluent reuse projects that might not have the ROI typically required for a capital project.  

ABInBev is not alone in their support of the UN Sustainability goals. PepsiCo, another of the largest Food and Beverage companies in the world has utilized more of a stockholder engagement approach to achieve a similar move toward sustainability. The food and beverage company presented its sustainability strategy and goals during a recent annual shareholder meeting and identified and disclosed climate change, water scarcity and public health issues as core sustainability challenges in its annual financial filings. 

Not to be outdone, Coca-Cola has incorporated "Water Stewardship" as part of their brand, as well as many of the other UN SDG’s. The company presents the following on their website:

“Water is the first ingredient in most of our beverages. It’s central to the long-term success of our business and the health of our communities. We have a responsibility to respect and protect water resources.”

Where it gets interesting is that Coca-Cola has backed up this statement with some very serious action: the company has improved the efficiency of its water use by over 20% and has identified the need for a rigorous third-party evaluation of its water management approach, posting the following on their website as their own report card:

“In 2017, our water efficiency improved for the 15th consecutive year, with a 2.55% improvement over 2016, a 15% improvement over 2010. This also amounts to a 29.3% improvement since 2004 when we started reporting efficiency progress as a global system.”

Coca-Cola has gone so far as to measure their “water footprint” using a third party to determine the amount of water used by their outside vendors and include them into the mix. As a founding partner of the Water Footprint Network, the company has worked with WWF, The Nature Conservancy and other to assess the water embedded in their products, packaging and ingredients so they can better understand the implications for their business and work to reduce impacts.

General Mills, another billion-dollar food and beverage corporation, also released a set of sustainable sourcing commitments that begin with a robust risk assessment process undertaken in partnership with a third party. This approach led the company to prioritize ten commodities, including oats, wheat and corn, that they plan to source sustainably.

JBS tracks both total water use and water intensity (water use per pound of finished product, including by-products) to consistently identify opportunities for improvements, irrespective of changes in production. In 2019, JBS used approximately 25 billion gallons of water in USA facilities, drawing 65% of this water from public municipalities, 28% from groundwater sources and 7% from surface water, including streams.


JBS tracks both total water use and water intensity to identify opportunities for improvements, irrespective of changes in production.

They have committed to work to continually optimize water use and identify opportunities to reduce water use intensity without compromising food safety, animal welfare or environmental compliance. As a global company, JBS decreased water use intensity by 1% from 2018 to 2019, while participating business units in the US and Canada decreased water use intensity 10% since 2015, meeting their 2020 reduction goal.

OK, these are some great examples of big corporations that take the UN SDG’s seriously and invest huge resources attempting to meet them, measuring their own progress along the way. What does this mean for us at Hydro International?

Simple: these are our current and prospective customers and partners, and what's important to them is also important to us.

Our company was started 40 years ago with a mission to protect the environment - initially from flooding, but very soon after that from pollution - and over four decades we have expanded our capabilities and areas of focus to incorporate water and wastewater treatment, water monitoring and resource management, and (particularly for industrial businesses) water recycling and reuse.

Sustainability and environmental protection is part of our DNA, so we're pleased to get to work with businesses who truly recognize that better and more sustainable water management benefits not just the company involved but society and the global environment - and we're always excited to help them to meet the water management goals that they are so passionate about.