State of Sustainable Development Goals

Interview with Kylie Porter (Executive Director Global Compact Network Australia) and Michael Donaghue-Evans (President UN Youth Victoria)

The role of the Sustainable Development Goals has become a key guideline for how communities relate to business standards which embraces strategies for a sustainable future. As such, we spoke to Kylie Porter and Michael Donahue Evans as representatives of the United Nations on achieving the 2030 UN Sustainability goals and their role in sustainability.

Kylie is the Executive Director at UN Global Compact Network; the Australian Local Network of the United Nations (UN) Global Compact. To complement, Michael is the President of Youth UN Victoria and he shares his insights into how young people can be more involved with sustainability and the importance of community networks.

What is the most valuable aspect of working with the UN Global Compact? Kylie: We continue to see Australian businesses, especially in recent years, make significant and meaningful commitments to establish sustainable business practice. Seeing the impact of the work we do to support and empower local businesses to make these changes makes the work and dedication worth it. However, we would not have seen the growth in the initiative and the programming that we offer without an amazing team and inspirational group of participating companies.

When did you become interested in working with Global Compact Network Australia? Kylie: I have been working in sustainability for large businesses for over 15 years. Whilst I have a Master’s in International Development and anticipated that I would end up working on humanitarian projects, I learned early on that business is a core enabler of a better world. Sustainable change comes from within – this is true for us as individuals and true for businesses. Having engaged with GCNA and the UN Global Compact during my time with National Australia Bank, when the opportunity came up to apply for the Executive Director role and blend my business experience with running a not-for-profit, the role seemed perfect!


What action can be taken to create a more innovative approach to achieving the SDGs when working in the digital age as individuals around the globe? Kylie: At the heart of addressing sustainability is innovation, the need to approach all business problems with a human mentality, and unwavering leadership from business leaders who wholeheartedly believe in a more prosperous future. A transformation shift is needed to ensure a sustainable future and this in itself provides an amazing opportunity for innovation. This could even mean integration of global goals into business KPIs and embracing circular thinking within business models. For example, decarbonisation as a concept isn’t new, but business solutions to tackle this problem have been quite astounding to watch. One such example is Mineral Carbonation International who have made their mark globally by transforming CO2 emissions into tangible materials that can be reused within the mining, manufacturing and energy sectors.

How did you first develop an interest in sustainability and working in humanitarian projects? Kylie: I have been interested in sustainability, particularly human rights and climate change since I was a young girl. I grew up predominately in South East Asia and was witness to poverty, discrimination, exclusion on many grounds and the impacts of corruption and weak rule of law. As a child I wanted to rescue Nelson Mandela from Robben Island, then in my pre-teens I advocated for the end of CFCs in aerosols, and raised awareness of the damages caused by the Exxon Valdez. By my teen years I was writing letters on behalf of Amnesty International and advocating for action on climate with Greenpeace and WWF. Sustainability is, in many ways, a core part of my being.


Why is being involved in community networks important for young people to have an impact on the world? Michael: Community networks are incredibly important to young people, and they allow for collective action and resource sharing. Young people usually do not have access to large pools of funding and resources, and faced with massive challenges around inequality, climate action and other pressing global issues, it is easy to feel powerless. Community organisations both allow individual passions to be channelled into a collective project and ensure that young people do not feel as hopeless or alone. Everyone has different experiences and ideas, and whether a community organisation is engaged in activism, education, or directly implementing changes locally and internationally, its work will be far more effective than any individual trying to make change on their own.

For young people interested in pursuing a career focused in humanitarianism or environmental sustainability, what would be your tips for being more involved? Kylie: Australia has seen incredible demonstrations of youth advocacy and activism over the past few years. Aside from major lockdowns due to the pandemic, young Australians are increasingly conscious of the challenges they are inheriting from generations before. Across the country there have been demonstrations of young people demanding climate action. My advice is to never give up. Find what really interests you and follow that path. Sustainability is no longer a fringe career. There are plenty of opportunities out there across such a broad range of related fields. Take time to explore them. Use LinkedIn to introduce yourself to people you admire or follow. And take chances!

How do you see the role of young people being central to achieving the 2030 UN Sustainability goals? Michael: Even if they aren’t thinking directly about the SDGs, a lot of the issues that many young

people care about are clearly related to them. Young people are leading fights for goals like gender inequality, quality education, good health and wellbeing, and climate action. Not all young people need to take the same steps to achieve the SDGs. For some, it might look like getting involved in activism, protests, and maybe even going into politics. For others, it might have a bearing on career choices. Some might choose to study science and work towards developing affordable clean energy and better water filtration systems. Others might train to become teachers and work to address educational inequalities in Australia or focus on improving their local communities through social work. Of course, young people can’t be relied upon to achieve these goals alone. Whether they are students or in the early stages of their careers, young people do not always have the power to bring about structural changes themselves, so it is important that older people also actively dedicate themselves to achieving the SDGs. However, young people will be vital both in creating a political environment where action on sustainability is prioritised and helping to develop the solutions that are needed to achieve the goals.

What is the most valuable aspect of working with the UN Global Compact? Kylie: We continue to see Australian businesses, especially in recent years, make significant and meaningful commitments to establish sustainable business practice. Seeing the impact of the work we do to support and empower local businesses to make these changes makes the work and dedication worth it. However, we would not have seen the growth in the initiative and the programming that we offer without an amazing team and inspirational group of participating companies.

What are a couple of strategies that would support the attainment of the SDGs by 2030 that can be adopted on a local level? Kylie: The pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to rebuild the world into one we are proud to be part of. The SDGs are key to ensuring that our future is inclusive, diverse and sustainable, with each Goal having clear targets and indicators, businesses can use these as a benchmark for success. With regards to the environment, there is opportunity in Australia to focus on alternative fuel sources, but we must strongly consider how they stand up against the SDGs. Goal 7 of the SDGs is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Goal 13 speaks to taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impact. Both these goals must remain a focus for the Federal Government. GCNA remains committed to working with the Australian business community to invest in future proofing business practices, and in turn our economies. The 17 goals outlined in the SDGs highlight the significant commitment required for global, and specifically local, businesses to review the way that they operate and align business objectives with responsible and sustainable practice.

What role does technology play in developing our society to address climate change? Micheal: Technology plays a vital role in helping our society address climate change. There are direct benefits of the development of more affordable renewable energy and adaptive technologies like sea walls and disaster proof homes. But importantly, technology and the internet have helped to shape society’s understanding of the impacts of climate change. One of the reasons why climate action has been so difficult is that it requires some immediate sacrifices without immediately providing a clearly visible benefit. However, seeing footage of unprecedented fires and floods from around the world, or being able to hear communities in the Torres Strait talk about how their islands are being eaten away by rising sea levels makes it far harder to deny the need to take action. While awareness does not always lead to action, the internet allows people to see the repeated and immediate consequences of climate change in a way that is easier to understand than scientific projections and modelling.


For people that are eager to learn more about the SDG 2030 at the UN, what platforms can they follow to keep in touch? Kylie: In a digital age, access to shared insights and information has never been easier. You can visit the United Nations website, or follow the organisation on Instagram, Facebook or even LinkedIn. With so many sustainable business leaders in one community, connecting with leaders through LinkedIn is a great way to make meaningful connections while also gaining access to their shared thoughts, articles and upcoming events to attend.

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