Vienna, September 24, 2018 - In 2015, the United Nations member states made a binding commitment to 17 Sustainable Development Goals embedded within the Agenda 2030. This framework constitutes a joint schedule towards a sustainable future for humankind.
But what about the concrete implementation of these goals? What is the importance of the SDGs in Vienna? In what way are they already included on a political, institutional and social level? And which initiatives are still necessary to make the SDGs more visible and raise public awareness of their existence and content?
With Solution Talks Towards Sustainable Solutions
A lot of questions to which the new event series labelled “Solution Talks” attempts to find answers. Initiators and organizers are Social City Vienna und its spin-off Impact Finance Organization (imfino), together with UNIDO, der Wiener Bildungsakademie, the umbrella organization of the Vienna social institutions (Wiener Sozialeinrichtungen), as well as Erste Bank und the Russian oil and gas corporation LUKOIL. This event series will conclude with the signing of a “Vienna Declaration” where all relevant stakeholders expressly commit themselves to showcasing and implementing the SDGs in concrete projects.
The kick-off to this series took place at the Vienna International Center on September 14, when the economically important SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure - was the focus of a plenary discussion with high-ranking representatives from politics, industry, educational institutions and universities as well as civil society. They all presented concrete initiatives and projects of their organizations that are relevant to this goal.
2018: Kick-off for SDGs in Vienna
The event was introduced and moderated by Ursula Oberhollenzer from the Agency for Sustainability “blue cube”. She started out by giving a brief historical overview of how the SDGs came into being and then immediately turned to 2018, the real starting date for the SDGs in Vienna. At a roundtable in April, the designated Vienna Mayor, Michael Ludwig made a strong commitment to the implementation of the SDGs in Vienna and asserted it was necessary to bring the United Nations and the SDGs closer to the citizens.
UNIDO’s Director of External Relations Kai Bethke and Martin Nesirky from UNIS joined Ludwig in his assessment that it was necessary to establish closer relations between United Nations and its host city Vienna and its citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals were not yet rooted in the hearts and minds of the Viennese, said Bethke.
Emil Diaconu of Social City Vienna then took up this point and emphasized he was “proud, both as a Viennese citizen and as Managing Director of his company, to help convey these comprehensive goals for humankind to all citizens, but especially to the young people.” It was particularly important to not just look at individual goals separately, but to place them in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary context. The planned Vienna Declaration was a concrete action plan, stressed Diaconu and referred in this context to the projects and activities of Social City, which, for years, has been actively implementing projects such as the Stadtmenschen Wien and the Austrian Youth Peace Prize.
Focus on Education and Innovation
A central focus of the following plenary discussion was on education as a prerequisite for innovation and sustainable economic and technological development. Johann Karmel from Ecoduna, an enterprise that developed a biotechnological production method for microalgae, is convinced that innovation will only happen through an education initiative. New production technologies are key to sustainable growth and is was urgently necessary to promote education and innovation to achieve the SDGs. This is also true for the field of digitalization where a broad access to network and innovative technology is the precondition for progress in this area. This point was supported by Thomas Toifl from the education academy bfi – he underscored the main goal and most important challenge for his organization was to convey digital competence on a broad basis.
Marcus Schober from the Vienna Education Academy (Wiener Bildungsakademie - wba) is convinced of the necessity to enhance the presence of the SDGs in educational curricula. In this regard, the wba is also planning to focus more strongly on sustainability and the Goals and offer more courses with SDG-relevant content.
Austria still needed to catch up regarding media and digital competence, deplored Wolfgang Renner from the Wiener Zeitung Academy. He referred in this regard to the fact that “at present, Austria spends a mere 3.7 % on scientific research – in this sense, our country is an ‘innovation follower’”. To improve this dire situation, it was necessary to start in schools and get children and young adults – especially also girls and women – excited about scientific research and development. Renner suggested this could be done by explaining results of applied science to young people through “story-telling and the use of easy language.”
Best-Practice Initiatives for Education and Digitalization
Following, numerous best-practice initiatives in the educational sector were presented – for instance a global volunteer project initiated by the youth organization AIESEC in cooperation with the UN. Here, young people are offered the opportunity to go abroad and work in SDG-relevant projects. Back at home, they can then apply their respective know-how in new or already-existing projects and initiatives. A similar project was introduced by Klara Krgovic from the NGO Global Responsibility: a training program for youth workers to become SDG ambassadors.
An exciting SDG-relevant digitalization initiative was presented by the Technical University Vienna (TU). Professor Gerti Kappel introduced the e-learning program “MOOCs” (Massive Open Online Course) – an introductory lecture into programming, which was realized with the help of public-private partnership.
Another novel project in the digitalization sector are an innovative kind of 3-D glasses used by the Volkshochschule (public education academy) Vienna. Beginning in the fall semester, students who are unable to attend lectures and courses in person, will then, with the help of these glasses, be able to follow the courses, ask questions and experience a 3-d learning environment without having to leave the house. Doris Vickers from the VHS Vienna distributed the 3-D glasses also to the participants of the SDG-9 event and people were thrilled with this offer.
„Nobody Left Behind“
Representatives of the social institutions and NGOs in Vienna referred to the potential danger that people get left behind by the fast technological and digital developments. Eva-Maria Luger, head of the umbrella organization of the Vienna social institutions (Dachverband Wiener Sozialeinrichtungen) which counts more than 80-member organizations, warned initiatives in the education sector could only have a sustainable effect if the social aspect was taken into consideration as well. Especially older people needed to be included in this digitalization push to avoid their being “left behind in the social development process.”
Sustainability Goals and Private Economy – how does this fit together?
The central question whether sustainability goals and financial gain are compatible was answered affirmatively by both by Günter Benischek, CEO of Zweite Sparkasse – a banking institution affiliated with Erste Bank, and Lukoil CEO Robert Gulla. Both expressed their commitment to the necessity to root the sustainability goals – and especially SDG 9 – in entrepreneurial strategies.
Their companies have already done this – at least partially. The SDGs are a fixed component of the Erste Bank annual report, the bank abstains from financing nuclear power plants and creates investment portfolios that exclude companies with a negative SDG record, Benischek reported proudly. Lukoil’s annual report is also SDG-based and in 2018, there will be, according to Gulla, for the first time, a separate CSR report for Austria. Also, the company maintains cooperations with scientific institutions such as the Montanuniversität Leoben – for the purpose of working together on new technologies and innovative approaches regarding energy efficiency, in particular with an eye to Lukoils own products. In addition, the company invests in the SDG-education of its staff.
In the long run, however, the SDGs will have to play a much stronger role in the private economy, said Benischek and suggested using the currently favourable credit terms to invest in concrete SDG-related projects, for example the installation of solar panels and photovoltaic systems on the roofs of communal housing buildings. However, doing so would require flexibility on the part of all stakeholders and project partners – the City of Vienna would then have to accept the fact that the photovoltaic systems do not belong to them.
Financing Problem: Long Path from Project Idea to Implementation
Benischek’s proposal should please Cornelia Daniel, CEO of the solar systems company “Dachgold.” Her plan is to have 1001 roofs equipped with Dachgold photovoltaic systems by 2020. However, she also noted innovative approaches like this had to overcome huge financing challenges due to a lack of knowledge and information about the potential of sustainable energy. Therefore, the implementation of projects such as Dachgold could last up to four years from the initial talks to the actual implementation, deplored Daniel.
„Who do we want to have been? – Sustainability in the Philosophical Discourse
Before the actual start of the plenary discussion around SDG 9, Ramona Kordesch from the not-for-profit foundation Societas Futura asked the participants to consider the Sustainable Development Goals from a philosophical perspective. With a view towards the future, to the year 2030, she raised the questions: “Who do we want to have been? What do we want to have achieved? How do we want to have achieved this? and finally Why will this succeed?”
In another philosophical contribution after the break, historian and sociologist Reinhold Knoll considered the SDGs from a critical point of view. He called them “wish fulfilment goals” and said they stood in direct contrast to the reality of a climate change and the inability and unwillingness of political actors to do something about it. In this sense, the SDGs express a hidden despair, argued Knoll.
The Way Forward: Continuing to Work for the SDGs
Concluding, this “Solution Talks” event presented numerous initiatives and suggestions on how to enhance visibility of the SDGs and their concrete implementation. Not just the participants of the panel discussion, but also the audience made constructive suggestions – for instance to convey the SDGs in a language adapted to the target groups or use symbols to bring the SDGs closer to the citizens. Such symbols could also be shown in public places or on public transport.
At the end of the vent, the participants committed themselves with their signatures to continue their work for the sustainability topic and initiate, in their respective companies, organizations or institutions, projects and initiatives to advance the SDG agenda. The next “Solution Talks” event is planned for November and will focus on SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals.
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