How do I measure the impact of sustainability?

4 Minutes
A methodical, data-driven approach, bolstered by collaborative research, is indispensable for the comprehensive realisation of the SDGs.

The quest for a sustainable future has never been more pressing, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serving as the world's blueprint. These goals, while globally agreed upon, face the intricate task of being operationalised at local levels. The challenge lies not just in setting objectives but in ensuring that they are translated into actionable steps that resonate with diverse communities. This article delves into the scientific methodologies, data-driven approaches, and cultural considerations that are pivotal in tracking and ensuring the accountability of the SDGs, drawing insights from a range of empirical studies and international case scenarios.

The Global Landscape: From Vision to Reality

The SDGs offer a holistic vision for a brighter, more sustainable future. Yet, the journey from global aspirations to localised actions is fraught with challenges. Making these goals actionable at the grassroots is paramount.

In Canada, for example, over 1000 sustainable community plans (SCPs) have been launched to dovetail local strategies with the SDGs. These initiatives are laudable, but a chasm often exists between the planning phase and tangible implementation. Merging market-based instruments (MBIs) with conventional policy tools emerges as a promising solution. Yet, a pressing question looms: Can these instruments effectively bridge the divide between ambitious blueprints and real-world outcomes? The answer lies in understanding the multifaceted nature of localising global objectives. MBIs, while incentivising sustainable practices, depend on factors such as grassroots SDG awareness and robust monitoring mechanisms. Furthermore, for genuine sustainability, these instruments must be bolstered by initiatives that build capacity, develop infrastructure, and foster public-private partnerships.

The Role of Technology in Monitoring Progress

In our digital era, technology offers unprecedented tools for gauging and ensuring progress. Real-time analytics and digital platforms promise precision in measuring sustainability initiatives. In Nigeria's Savannah region, for instance, technological tools are employed to analyse the nexus between water, energy, and food accessibility. Yet, the digital solution is a double-edged sword, raising concerns about data privacy, accuracy, and the risk of digital exclusion.

Localising the Global Goals

The true litmus test for the SDGs lies in their local implementation. Adapting these goals to resonate with specific community nuances is vital. In Limpopo, South Africa, grassroots endeavours are underway to monitor SDG progress in four rural communities. These initiatives, while invaluable, underscore the challenges posed by resource constraints, cultural variances, and the potential misalignment of local and global priorities.

Child Health and Wellbeing in the SDG Era

Child health and wellbeing stand at the heart of the SDGs. The Child Health Accountability Tracking group (CHAT) has pioneered indicators specifically designed for the SDG era. This innovative approach, however, prompts critical questions: Can these indicators be universally adopted? And how can they encapsulate the myriad challenges children face across diverse socio-economic and cultural landscapes? Addressing these concerns, it's evident that while CHAT's framework is robust, child health challenges differ vastly across regions, necessitating local adaptations to the indicators.

Mental Health: An Overlooked Priority

Mental wellbeing is intrinsically tied to several SDGs. Heymann and Sprague's paper underscores the urgency of a holistic approach to gauging mental health outcomes. Their advocacy brings to the fore a broader concern: the sidelining of mental health in global sustainability dialogues. Factors such as cultural stigmas, the emphasis on tangible outcomes, and resource constraints have contributed to this oversight. Yet, the tide is turning, with a growing consensus on the need to prioritise mental health in sustainability discussions.

Stakeholder Collaboration: The Key to Accountability

Realising the SDGs is a shared responsibility. New Zealand's adept handling of the pandemic underscores the potency of collaboration. However, collaboration is not without its challenges. Ensuring inclusivity and navigating potential conflicts of interest are paramount to ensuring that collaborative efforts yield equitable results.


The meticulous examination of SDG implementation reveals the intricate dance of aligning global aspirations with local realities. From Canada's community plans to grassroots research in South Africa, the diverse case studies shed light on the multifaceted challenges and prospects of SDG localisation. The in-depth analysis of child health metrics and the renewed focus on mental wellbeing further underscore the necessity for methodological rigour and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

As the 2030 deadline looms, one thing is clear: a methodical, data-driven approach, bolstered by collaborative research, is indispensable for the comprehensive realisation of the SDGs.


  • Rigler, G., Dokou, Z., Khadim, F., et al. (2022). Citizen Science and the Sustainable Development Goals: Building Social and Technical Capacity through Data Collection in the Upper Blue Nile Basin, Ethiopia. Sustainability, 14(6), 3647. (1)
  • Sani, Y., Scholz, M. (2021). Water-Energy-Food Accessibility and Tracking Progress towards Achieving Sustainable Development Goals in the Savannah Region of Katsina State, Nigeria. (2)
  • Wernecke, B., Mathee, A., Kunene, Z., et al. (2021). Tracking Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals in Four Rural Villages in Limpopo, South Africa. (3)
  • Requejo, J., Strong, K. L., Agweyu, A., et al. (2022). Measuring and monitoring child health and wellbeing: recommendations for tracking progress with a core set of indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals era. (4)
  • Heymann, J., Sprague, A. (2023). Meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals for mental health: why greater prioritization and adequately tracking progress are critical. (4)

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