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Sustainable development goals – an analysis of outcomes

Omar Sacilotto Donaires (School of Economics, Business Administration and Accounting at Ribeirão Preto, University of Sao Paulo USP , Ribeirao Preto, Brazil)
Luciana Oranges Cezarino (FAGEN Faculty of Business and Management, UFU Federal University of Uberlandia , Uberlandia, Brazil)
Adriana Cristina Ferreira Caldana (School of Economics, Business Administration and Accounting at Ribeirão Preto, University of Sao Paulo USP , Ribeirao Preto, Brazil)
Lara Liboni (School of Economics, Business Administration and Accounting at Ribeirão Preto, University of Sao Paulo USP , Ribeirao Preto, Brazil)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 25 September 2018

Issue publication date: 25 January 2019




The concept of sustainability evokes a multiplicity of meanings, depending on the field. Some authors have criticized the concept for its vagueness. Notwithstanding this criticism, worldwide efforts to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs) are in progress and are expected to yield results by 2030. This paper aims to addresses two issues and make two primary contributions. First, the concept of sustainability is revisited to develop its integrative understanding. This concept is built on systems thinking – specifically, on the concepts of synergy, emergence, recursion and self-organization. Second, an approach is developed to help determine whether the efforts being made towards the SDGs can be expected to be effective (i.e., whether the world can hope to soon be a system that self-organizes towards sustainability).


Based on the assumption that the SDGs and their respective targets are systemically interrelated, the data on the progress towards the SDGs are correlated and the outcome is analysed.


The emerging pattern of correlations reflected the systemic coherence of the efforts as an indication of self-organization towards sustainability. This pattern also revealed that the efforts are still spotty and that the systemic synergy has not yet taken place. This correlation approach to Brazil is then applied. The data about Brazil’s progress towards the SDGs from the World Bank’s Word Development Indicators (WDI) database are gathered. The outcomes indicated that Brazil as a whole cannot yet be seen as self-organizing system that is evolving towards sustainability.

Research limitations/implications

To enable the calculation of the correlation matrix, the data series were not allowed to have missing values. Some of the WDI data series had many missing values and had to be eliminated. This unfortunately reduced the variability of the original data. In addition, the missing values in the remaining data series had to be calculated by means of interpolation or extrapolation. There are alternative algorithms to perform such functions. The impact of the interpolation and extrapolation of the missing values on the study, as well as the pros and cons of different algorithms, required investigation. It is important to remark that the WDI series was the only global and open data set that aligned with the SDGs.

Social implications

In Brazil, it is important to maintain the public policies that affect SDG 1-6, but it is necessary to develop policies geared towards SDG 12. Environmental goals also need more public policies (SDGs 14 and 15). To achieve this 2030 Agenda, much effort will be required for SDG 17, which is related to greater synergy through partnerships.


Three qualitatively distinct levels of efforts to sustainability are identified: individual, organizational and world activities. At the individual level, progress regarding sustainability depends on personal attitudes, including the willingness to abandon a self-centred lifestyle in favour of a more cooperative way of living and making decisions, and to embrace a new approach to ethics, which replaces self-interest by self-denial and self-sacrifice (de Raadt & de Raadt, 2014). At the organizational level, a paradox of the need to internalize environmental and social costs into generic strategies and the sustainability strategy that involves core businesses are challenges for systems working towards sustainability. When it comes to global level, in this paper, the authors tried to make a contribution to push forward the frontier of knowledge by proposing an approach to understand whether the progress made towards the SDGs in the past 25 years indicates that the world is, after all, organizing for sustainability (Schwaninger, 2015).



Donaires, O.S., Cezarino, L.O., Caldana, A.C.F. and Liboni, L. (2019), "Sustainable development goals – an analysis of outcomes", Kybernetes, Vol. 48 No. 1, pp. 183-207.



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