How the UN's Sustainable Development Goals could determine the quality of life for centuries to come

The way we are living on Earth has sent it into decline. In less than a lifetime, we have radically remade the planet. And amid the current coronavirus pandemic, many wonder when we will be able to return to 'normal.' As it turns out, nothing could be worse than returning to normality.

The real crisis

Unless we quickly change our ways, the damage we have done in a lifetime will be eclipsed by the damage coming in the century ahead. Scientists1 predict that:

  • A 4oC hotter planet could make large parts of the Earth uninhabitable, rendering millions homeless.
  • The Amazon rainforest could degrade into a dry savannah, altering the global water cycle.
  • The Arctic could be ice-free in the summer, reflecting less of the sun's energy.
  • Ocean warming and acidification could lead to a crash in fish populations, while climate-aggravated soil depletion could bring about a crisis in food production.

The longer we avoid facing our self-made problems, the more difficult they will be to solve. Christiana Figueres, the former UNFCCC Executive Director, underlines the urgency: "The next 8–10 years are going to determine the quality of life for the next 100–200 years."

1 “A life on our Planet”

A new appetite for change

Historically, pandemics have forced humanity to break with the past and imagine the world anew. The mid-nineteenth century cholera epidemic led directly to the birth of modern sanitation, while efforts to combat endemic tuberculosis inspired the modernist movement in architecture and design.

According to Professor Arne Krokan at NTNU in Norway, the current pandemic has led to a change in what we believe is possible. People have shown an enormous capacity to adapt, and with great creativity, we have changed the way we live, work and organize.

The lockdown forced society to stop, and for the first time in generations, the Himalayas are visible in Punjab. Lions have reclaimed the roads in Kruger National Park, while dolphins have returned to Italy’s coast.

David Attenborough says that when we change the way we live on Earth, an alternative future comes into view. In this future, we will finally learn how to work with nature rather than against it. "Ten thousand years ago, as hunter-gatherers, we lived a sustainable life because that was the only option. All these years later, it's once again the only option."

17 goals for a sustainable future for everyone

In 2015, all UN member countries signed up to a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals provide a practical framework for how you, your community, your company and your country can become part of the solution and make the world a better place.

At Vestre, we have tied our business operations to nine of the UN’s SDGs. In recent years, we have tripled our revenue, and we could not have achieved this without basing our business philosophy on long-term sustainability.

Aligning with the UN’s SDGs helps us as a community-oriented business to do the right thing for the greater good. The following are some of our activities, commitments and decisions:

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Cities are responsible for 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions. We are working with Young Sustainable Impact to study how large cities can become more energy-efficient through new mobility solutions, the recycling of surface water and the creation of more attractive outdoor spaces.

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

We design and build our furniture to last forever. Vestre is the only urban furniture manufacturer to offer certified sustainable products with a lifetime anti-rust warranty, a 15-year paint adhesion warranty and a 15-year warranty on all wood components. After decades of faithful service, worn furniture can be returned to our factory to be restored and given a new lease of life.

Goal 4: Quality education

  • Build schools in Myanmar by supporting Gyaw Gyaw.
  • Give 3,500 children in conflict areas the opportunity to go to school through UNICEF.
  • Develop a furniture design curriculum in the West Bank city of Jericho, in collaboration with Norwegian Church Aid and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

  • Use 100% renewable energy in our production.
  • Become self-sufficient in renewable energy from the sun and wind.
  • Our factory in Torsby, Sweden, is already self-sufficient on sunny days.

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

  • Offer work to people with gaps in their CVs.
  • Help people in Laos obtain microloans to start their own businesses by supporting Empower.
  • Develop sustainable agriculture in Tanzania by working with Farm the Future.

Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

  • Use materials with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, even when it costs more.
  • Make most transportation in our production network to fossil-free by the end of 2020.
  • Help develop clean solar energy startups in Kenya by supporting SUNami.

Goal 10: Reduce inequalities

  • Provide safe workplaces and generate tax revenues in the countries in which we operate.
  • Refuse requests for hostile designs, such as benches with spikes.
  • Support Doctors Without Borders (MSF) with an operating theatre that can treat up to 700 people a year, specifically aimed at women's health.

Goal 13: Climate action

  • Complete the construction of the world's most sustainable furniture factory in 2021.
  • Continuously reduce our own and our suppliers' carbon emissions (our first factory has been carbon-neutral since 2010.)
  • Finance environmental projects like landfill construction in Colombia and rainforest protection in Papua New Guinea.

Goal 15: Life on land

  • Use environmentally certified Scandinavian timber from the most sustainable forests.
  • Protect the rainforests; we never use tropical woods in our products.

Vestre is the world's first manufacturer of urban furniture to achieve Nordic Swan Ecolabel certification

Everything is possible for the Lord Almighty and a mechanic!

With this as his motto, Johs. Vestre established Vestre in Haugesund, Norway, in 1947. The Second World War had ended and people rallied together to rebuild, inspired by what Norwegians call 'dugnadsånd'. Fired with this spirit of joining forces to work collaboratively for the greater good, we set about creating and building the new Norway.

Today, the spirit of collaborative work seems more appropriate and vital than ever. We have been through challenging times, and are facing major problems ahead. At Vestre, we believe that anything is possible, especially when we all pull together in the same direction.

How everyone can save the world. A little

Europe might be small, with 10% of global emissions. Vestre might only be an urban furniture manufacturer. Yet Europe aims to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and Vestre to become the world's most sustainable furniture manufacturer by 2030.

While our impact might not directly change the bigger picture, what we represent does. We dare to go first and set out to find better ways. Regardless of our size, we choose to do all that we can. Once we show it is possible, others will start believing it is possible too.

At Vestre, we have been carbon neutral for a decade. As more and more businesses strive to go carbon neutral, we will create a green wave of clean jobs and new ways to live healthier lives, with cleaner air in better cities. In an equal society, all of us can enjoy fulfilling, safer and more productive lives.

We shape society and the future of our planet with our choices. That future starts today, and it begins with a decision to change, a fresh mindset and the willingness to act.

Commit to making a better tomorrow today

To be sustainable, as defined by the Brundtland Commission 30 years ago, we need to leave the Earth the same or better for future generations. As Nelson Mandela once said: "It always seems impossible until it is done."

Our young people are demanding change to protect their future, and we need to transform key sectors of the global economy in the next decade if we are to reduce emissions in time.

Green and sustainable growth is possible, it is solidarity, it is just, and it is profitable.

If Vestre can do it, so can you.

Recent sustainability commitments and accomplishments

  • The cement industry causes 8% of global carbon emissions. LafargeHolcim, the world's largest cement producer, has become the first global building materials company to issue a net zero pledge. It has drawn up a roadmap for further reducing its emissions over the next decade, and aims for 100% carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • 145 coal-burning furnaces at 75 power plants have shut down in the USA. Despite having the most coal-friendly president in American history, this 15% percent reduction in coal-fired generating capacity is the sharpest decrease in any presidential term.
  • 94% fewer inhabitants are suffering from air pollution in London. The remarkable decrease from over 2 million in 2016 to 119,000 in 2019 is thanks to Sadiq Khan, London's mayor. His regulations resulted in 44,000 fewer noxious vehicles driving around central London today compared with 2017.
  • According to BP, in the face of more decisive climate action, the world has passed peak oil. For the first time, they expect oil demand to shrink by at least 10% this decade and as much as 50% over the next 20 years.
  • Renewable energy, i.e. solar, wind, hydropower and bioenergy, beat coal and all fossil fuels put together on the European grid in the first half of 2020. As a result, the continent's power sector reduced its carbon emissions by 23%.
  • To become a 'regenerative company', Walmart is committing to protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and 1 million square miles of ocean by 2030. The world's largest retailer has cut 230 million tons of carbon from its supply chain since 2017 and is targeting zero emissions by 2040.