Sustainable development is becoming important in all aspects of today's society. With the adoption of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, organizations, companies, and governments across the globe are actively developing and implementing strategies supporting the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
A critical challenge associated with the SDGs as aspirational global instruments is to effectively translate and transpose the abstract language of the goals into practical, granular guidance. While the SDG targets and indicators help focus the action, they are silent on what methods and approaches may be used. That poses a challenge for many organizations as they try to find an effective way to incorporate the SDGs into their policies, programs, and operations. Standards bodies such as CSA Group seem well positioned to assist with this challenge.
How do standards support the SDGs?
Unlike the aspirational formulation of the SDGs, standards are typically detailed, technical documents for which actions can be objectively measured and benchmarked. Thus, standards – if they assist in achieving the goals enshrined in the SDGs – can help provide complete, concise, controllable, measurable, and understandable characteristics. This approach infers that organizations could take actions to support the SDGs by complying with the requirements and recommendations of standards, whether voluntary or incorporated by reference in regulations.
How are standards connected to the SDGs?
The links between Standards and the SDGs are not always self-evident. In the past, standards were not developed with the SDGs in mind and, therefore, do not directly outline how the technical guidance of standards matches the intended measurable outcomes of the SDGs.
CSA Group conducted a preliminary assessment of its standards, confirming that 80% of CSA standards support at least one SDG. The preliminary assessment led to a comprehensive multi-disciplinary research project with the goal of developing a robust and transparent methodology for mapping standards to the SDGs at the target and indicator levels. Using such a methodology to validate any standard-SDG links can provide organizations, governments, policy-makers, and the public with reliable and transparent information and help strengthen their confidence in standards as instruments supporting the achievement of SDG-related objectives.
To demonstrate the linkages of standards and the SDG targets and indicators, let's look at a few examples
Moderating the effects of permafrost degradation
CSA S501:14 (R2019), Moderating the Effects of Permafrost Degradation on Existing Building Foundation, is part of a suite of eleven CSA standards and guidelines that address the threat of climate change in Northern communities. It encourages best practices of building maintenance and design that could preserve permafrost and prevent the loss of critical infrastructure in Northern Canada due to permafrost collapse.
The CSA S501:14 (R2019) requirements and recommendations focus on permafrost preservation, directly supporting climate change resilience and contributing to climate change adaptation in Northern Communities. With this specific scope and focus, it is clear that this Standard directly supports SDG 13, Climate Action, and, more specifically, SDG target 13.1 – Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
While CSA S501:14 (R2019) is primarily intended for use by engineers and architects, it also provides plain-language descriptions of permafrost loss, impacts, and best practices to protect it. These can be utilized by educators, the general public, and other groups to build community knowledge of this subject area. This further supports SDG target 13.3 - Improve education, awareness-raising, and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.
The CSA S501:14 spotlight study further outlines how the Standard supports the targets of SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Durability in buildings
The Standard CSA S478:19, Durability in buildings, aims to help increase the durability of buildings and building sustainability by providing users with direction and requirements on which materials to use to satisfy environmental or design factors that impact durability.
CSA S478:19 is relevant to climate change because it directly considers how buildings impact the environment and how the environment impacts the durability of buildings. At the same time, it also emulates the key components of SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, specifically target 9.1 - Develop quality, reliable, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure, including regional and transborder infrastructure, to support economic development and human well-being, with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all.
The CSA S478:19 spotlight study provides more insights on how the Standard can help promote sustainable practices and their implementation within the building industry.
The Canadian Electrical Code
The Canadian Electrical Code, Part I, has been in use across Canada for almost 100 years. Helping ensure the safety of electrical installations, the Code is referenced in provincial and territorial legislation and the National Building Code of Canada.
The latest 2021 edition of the Code introduced substantial changes to facilitate sustainability and address climate resilience. New and updated sections focused on renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic installations and wind-generated electricity, and new requirements for electric vehicles, home-based vehicle charging stations, and energy storage systems. While the Code does not require professionals to install certain low carbon, sustainable, or efficient technologies, it can play an important role in promoting efficiency and sustainability by continuously adding the requirements necessary for the safe installation of those technologies as they become marketable. This helps legitimize these emerging technologies and make them accessible to a greater population, thereby supporting the targets of SDG 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, such as:
- 1 - By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services
- 3- By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
The Canadian Electrical Code, Part I spotlight study further outlines how the Code supports the targets of SDG 9, Industry, Innovation, and infrastructure, and SDG 13, Climate Action. In total, a further 55 suggested resilience-related changes were updated in the 2021 edition of the code. Simple changes such as moving electrical receptacle installations from 2 feet off basement floors to 4 feet off floor level are improving resilience for all in Canada.
SDG-related priorities for future standards development
The SDGs have emerged as important and innovative instruments galvanizing governments, businesses, and civil society towards the achievement of a sustainable future. CSA Group's research project and mapping work ultimately found that standards can provide foundational support to organizations and governments to assist them in meeting their SDGs objectives. CSA Group's work focused on identifying and building linkages between standards use and the SDGs is an important part of a roadmap toward achieving the goals of the UN 2030 agenda.
CSA Group is now continuing efforts to better integrate SDG considerations into its current and future standards development and to educate stakeholders and the general public about the important role standards can play in achieving the SDGs. The newly launched CSA Group website provides additional resources, including a searchable database of CSA Standards and their links to specific SDG targets they support. This resource is just the beginning.
It is, however, important to note that while many standards explicitly support SDG targets such as climate resilience, it is recognized that not all standards link to SDGs. Standards users should always take care and be specific when claiming their support of SDGs through the use of standards. The tools and resources made available by CSA Group as a part of this project are intended to assist users in their evaluation of the degree the application of a standard leads to material changes and SDG achievement.
CSA Group always strives to provide up-to-date and accurate information. However, no representation or warranty, expressed or implied, is made that this information meets your specific needs, and any reliance on this information is at your own risk. Please contact CSA Group for more information about our services.
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