How Small Businesses Can Use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, With Examples

Oct 17, 2022 | Business, Sustainability

In an ideal world sustainability would be a factor in all business decisions, whether you’re just starting out or going global.

But for a lot of small businesses, it can feel like an impossible task to keep up with sustainability agendas and policies. Especially when budgets are tight, sustainable practices can often feel like an afterthought.

However, it is becoming evermore apparent that sustainability needs to be a factor in every business decision to help protect our planet from drastic climate change that could change the face of the world as we know it.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

In 2015 all United Nations Member States adopted into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a pledge to protect their population and the planet from poverty, destruction, and climate change. As part of this 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed as a blueprint to address all major issues affecting humanity today.

How can small businesses use the 17 SDGs?

The SDGs were developed with global action in mind, so can seem incredibly daunting and feel out of reach for many small businesses. But we are already seeing them in action across the world, as businesses large and small use them as a framework to assess their global impact, not just from an ecological perspective but also from a morality perspective.

This doesn’t mean that as a small business you should be tackling every single goal on the list, that would be a futile effort. We can’t save the world as a one-man band, it is a global group endeavour.

If you are a small business and would like to improve your sustainability or are struggling to know where to start with your environmental policy, you can choose a few SDGs relevant to you and your business and begin to consider how you can help tackle these issues.


• You can’t tackle everything, stick to what is relevant to your business and focus on that.
• Start small and make sure to share your efforts with others, the more awareness the better.
• Advocate for sustainable issues in your personal life and put pressure on larger corporations to make change. As a small business owner your options are sometimes limited by budget or availability, so it’s essential that pressure is put on larger companies to reduce unsustainable practices.

How to choose which Sustainable Development Goals to use?

Depending on which industry you are in, some goals will be more relevant than others. We have put together a few examples of how a small business may use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for positive changes to their business strategy.

Example 1: An independent women’s clothing shop with mostly in-person sales and a small web presence.

Gender equality: Support a charity that provides free period products for women in need by having a ‘round up’ donation on all card transactions.

Peace, justice, and strong institutions: Provide a notice board in your store for local woman and LGBTQ+ groups to post events and charity causes and share these online on your social media accounts.

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns: Switch your website to be hosted on a sustainable hosting service and use local suppliers for shop essentials to reduce emissions caused by buying inventory from abroad.

Example 2: A small local travel company providing guided walks with a simple website and printed maps and brochures.

Life on land: As part of a guided walk service include information about local environmental issues effecting wildlife thereby educating your customers on ecological problems in their local area.

Decent work and economic growth: Ensure your employees’ wages match or exceed the living wage and implement an apprenticeship scheme to help get young people into work.

Climate action: Switch to recycled paper for your maps and brochures. Dedicate more time to website maintenance and SEO to start bringing in more customers online in order to reduce the need for lots of single use printed marketing.

Example 3: An accountancy firm with a small team in a shared office close to where the employees live.

Quality education: Set up a work experience scheme in partnership with local schools to provide young people with quality work experience and help to encourage people to stay in education.

Sustainable cities and communities: Reduce pollution in your local area with a car share scheme, as well as cycling/walking to work initiatives and incentives.

Affordable and clean energy: Make sure all non-essential tech is turned off when not in use and switch to energy efficient light bulbs in the office.

There is always more to be done!

These examples are just a few small changes you and your business could make to work towards a brighter future for everyone. As your business grows you can continue to make these small changes and feel confident that you are part of the solution, not the problem.

Talk the talk, but can we walk the walk…

Sustainability is a key focus for us, and it’s not something we treat lightly. We know there is a long way to go until we can confidently say we have achieved our sustainability goals, but we like to think we have made a good start.

We have been awarded a Norfolk Carbon Charter Silver accreditation recognising our work to reducing our carbon footprint.
• On top of this we have internally verified our carbon neutral status (it was a bit of a learning curve, but we did it!)
• We have adapted almost every area of our business strategy to accommodate sustainable practices and encourage a sustainable lifestyle to our team and clients.
• As of October 2022 we have planted over 25,000 trees through Ecologi, and upgraded our hosting to a greener alternative.
• Emma Raines is an Associate Member of IEMA (Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment) and has worked with The Sustainability Centre at West Suffolk College to develop our own environmental policy.

How are we using SDGs at Example Marketing?

We have looked at a few relevant SDGs to see what we are doing to help further these goals and what we would like to do in the future. You can see a full breakdown of our sustainable efforts in our environmental policy.

Quality education: Through our blog we share advice for small businesses and individuals on sustainable business practices. As a small to medium business ourselves, we are on the same journey as many of our clients, so understand how hard it is to be truly sustainable. That is why we also recognise the importance of educating ourselves (as mentioned Emma is an Associate Member of IEMA!).

Responsible consumption and production: As part of our marketing services, we offer print marketing, which is a notoriously wasteful practice. It’s a work in progress, but through our partnership with Nettl we have recycled and recyclable printing options. In addition, we offer fabric display stands that can be used for years to come as an alternative to printing single use posters for conferences or exhibitions.

Within our office we have limited our internal printing to almost zero. We work hard to reduce our carbon footprint by turning off appliances when not in use, communal lights turn off automatically, and we’ve requested renewable energy from our landlord.

Partnerships for the goals: We work with the Norfolk Carbon Charter and Ecologi to further our sustainable efforts and connect with like-minded individuals. We do our best to stay up to date with legislation and policies both locally and globally, but we are always looking to improve.

Decent work and economic growth: We pay above living wage for every employee and have a 50/50 male/female management team. The very nature of our work means we’re supporting other local businesses in their growth.

Sustainable cities and communities: We focus on mostly local business and try to attract like-minded, ethical business owners who operate in industries which benefit our local community. We support our local community through Buy Local Norfolk for which we supply free marketing services to the social enterprise.

Climate action: This is the overall SDG that ties all our work together. A report published in 2021 by Purpose Disruptors found that successful advertisements add an extra 28% to the annual carbon footprint of every single person in the UK. We want to counteract the negative effects of our industry and recognise that the work towards sustainability never stops. We won’t always get it right, and in all honestly neither will you (at least not right away!). Just remember that taking that first step is better than staying still!

Useful resources for small businesses who want to be sustainable

We’ve compiled a list of resources you may find useful when starting your sustainability journey as a small business. If you’re looking for marketing and web design with sustainability in mind, let’s have a chat! Contact us today as see how we can help your small business.

Sustainability resources for small businesses:

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