A couple months ago, in response to my constant complaints about never having enough, time, energy or motivation to go to the gym, my husband suggested that I get a FitBit®. You know, the life-changing wrist technology that has been part of the fitness tracking phenomenon. “It will change your habits and get you to exercise more”, he said. I pondered it for a full minute, as I walked to the fridge for yet another snack, but promptly decided against it (the FitBit®, not the snack). I grudgingly admitted to myself what I already knew deep down. While a FitBit® might be a useful tool, it could not by itself spur me to the real actions I needed to take – snack less, sleep more and most importantly – get outside and sweat.
The application of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with its vital goals of climate action, reducing inequality, eliminating poverty among many other others and the approach corporations will undoubtedly take to achieving these goals is not dissimilar from the way people approach and use FitBits® and other fitness trackers. There is a focus on data gathering, a lack of true self- reflection and the ease of conflating motivation to change real change in behavior. Unfortunately, SDGs are the new FitBit®. For the SDG’s to be worth their salt, they need to be more than a soft tool which motivates corporations to gather data in order to meet aspirational goals. They need to spur corporations to activate for real environmental and human rights protection throughout the entirety of their business operations in. In the same way a FitBit® can’t make you fit unless you get up off your couch and exercise, SDGs can’t eliminate poverty or inequality without corporations taking real action– they are effective when they make corporations sweat.