The success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends on solving the ‘nexus’ challenge: how can positive interactions between SDGs be optimised, and negative interactions minimised, in order to create co-benefits and reduce trade-offs? Due to their varying impacts on the SDGs, the economic activities undertaken by organisations present a key lever for operationalising this SDG-nexus. Yet the interactions between individual economic activities and the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development have not been systematically assessed, thus creating a vital operational bottleneck to achieving the SDGs. This paper conducts a systematic review of 876 articles published between 2005 and 2019 to study the nexus between individual economic activities, sustainable development in general, and the SDGs in specific. It finds that studies on agricultural, industrial, and manufacturing activities predominantly report negative impacts on environmental development, while literature on services activities highlight economic and social contributions. Overall, economic activities are expected to positively impact industrialisation, infrastructure, and innovation [SDG 9], economic productivity [SDG 8], housing and transport [SDG 11], energy [SDG 7], and waste management [SDG 6]. However, negative impacts are widespread, afflicting ecosystems [SDGs 14 and 15], climate change [SDG 13] and human health [SDG 3]. We synthesise positive and negative interactions between individual economic activities and SDG targets and discuss implications for: integrated (nexus) governance approaches to the SDGs; the role of the private sector in promoting sustainable development; and for improving statistical classifications to monitor economic activities’ SDG impacts.

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International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

van Zanten, J.A. (Jan Anton), & van Tulder, R. (2020). Towards nexus-based governance: defining interactions between economic activities and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. doi:10.1080/13504509.2020.1768452