New data confirms America is falling way behind in sustainable development

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Thu, 2016-07-21 11:40 -- Compassionate C...

We could argue the U.S. has its head in the sand given the results of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index released this week. One of the richest nations in the world, it ranked No. 25 -- far behind world leaders in Europe and elsewhere. In some instances, the U.S. ranked behind developing countries. The 17 transformative SDGs, with 169 targets, aim to put the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path with dignity for all. They were agreed to last fall by all UN-member countries, including the U.S. Clearly they need to be a much higher priority on our national agenda. – Philip Bane


 The SDG Index and Dashboards report launched this week measures countries' progress toward achieving the agreed-to goals by 2030. Those goals range from ending hunger and poverty to reducing inequality to advancing environmental sustainability.  Sweden, Denmark and Norway topped the Index, followed by a slew of other countries in Europe.

In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of The Age of Sustainable Development, suggests the U.S. has largely ignored the SDGs except on campuses and in some city governments and companies. So perhaps its No. 25 ranking shouldn't be a surprise.

So much to gain
But Sachs argues the U.S. – with its growing gap between rich and poor -- could be among the biggest beneficiaries of the SDGs. As he puts it:

"The SDG rankings reflect deep and instructive differences between the United States and the SDG leaders in how our societies tick and the quality of life that we enjoy. The Scandinavian economies (and Northern European countries generally) have much lower maternal and infant death rates, higher life expectancy, longer vacation times, and a far lower inequality of income. Sweden’s homicide rate is around one-seventh of America’s and its incarceration rate is roughly one-tenth. Compared with Americans, the countries leading in sustainable development are also happier, with much higher ratings of self-assessed 'life satisfaction.'"

Ignoring our own backyard
Writing for The Guardian, Vikki Spruill, president of the Arlington, VA-based Council on Foundations, suggests the SDGs could be a roadmap for the U.S. to address the serious needs facing millions of Americans.

"We often speak euphemistically about these shortcomings with terms like 'income inequality,' 'wage gap,' or a 'dysfunctional justice system,'" she writes. "But for millions of Americans, these dynamics represent real hardship, which often leads to frustration, anger and a sense that our country is in trouble. It’s not a 'wage gap.' It’s poverty. And it’s the kind of challenge we devote billions to addressing globally but ignore in our own backyard."

Bringing the SDGs home
Natalie Ross, the Council on Foundation's Director of Global Philanthropy, calls on the philanthropic community to embrace the SDGs.

"The struggle for clean water in Michigan mirrors that in Mali; hunger impacts residents in Illinois just as it does in India," she writes in a post on the Foundation site. "As Americans, especially Americans who care about these issues, we must recognize that the U.S. is in desperate need of development. Philanthropy, for its part, must realize that the SDGs – as the most ambitious, relevant, and powerful development framework to ever exist – represent a roadmap for domestic programs here in America. We also must have the humility to admit that we can find answers to our problems by looking to what has worked in other countries around the world.

Ross outlines seven ways the philanthropic community "can bring the SDGs home to America."

1. Collaborate and partner

2. Use data and technology

3. Educate and raise awareness

4. Track progress and measure impact

5. Trust and listen to the grassroots

6. Galvanize and catalyze

7. Go deep, with determination

You can get details in a new report Ross co-authored: From Global Goals to Local Impact: How Philanthropy Can Help Achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in the U.S.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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