Culture and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

January 26, 2023

Culture and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

How does culture contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals? And why should arts organisations make the argument that it does?

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are at the heart of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015. Interestingly, although the goals and targets were written with nation states and multilateral organisations in mind, they are increasingly being adopted by companies and other non-governmental organisations. You might see the distinctive bright square icons or the colour wheel in annual reports or websites.

Some companies are now including reporting against UNSDG related goals in their wider Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting. And after all, why not? The UNSDGs are the closest thing we have to a strategy for humanity, so it makes sense to align a company’s goals and reporting with something even bigger.

Culture and the arts are not explicitly mentioned in the goals, which has been highlighted by a few commentators and organisations, not least the British Council in their 2020 report “The Missing Pillar – Culture’s contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” At the time it found that:

“Despite the growing recognition of the role culture plays in sustainable development, there is a significant gap in the literature on the implementation of the SDGs through a cultural lens.”

The report then goes on to analyse and map 15 British Council programmes to specific goals, targets and indicators. This mapping and case study approach is potentially useful to cultural organisations in thinking about how their activities might fit within the UNSDG framework.

Arts organisations often need to demonstrate their impact to funders and their audiences; the UNSDG framework is one way this could be done.



Further reading:

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has a lot of activity relating to culture and the SDGs. For example, this article from 2017 sets out the argument that culture is at the heart of the SDGs. There is more UNESCO material here.

UN Sustainable Development Goals