“We won't be able to achieve the SDGs if it's just an elitist group conspiring to make it happen”

From 21 to 23 November 2016, the German Council for Sustainable Development is hosting its first 'Open SDGclub.Berlin' – an English-language international conference in Berlin at which participants can share their initial experience with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its global Sustainable Development Goals, as adopted by the UN in September 2015.

Interview with Prof. Günther Bachmann, Secretary General of the German Council for Sustainable Development on the idea behind the Open SDGclub.Berlin and its possible outcomes.

Professor Bachmann, the name of the event ‘Open SDGclub.Berlin’ sounds intriguing – who will be coming?

Guests from 32 countries who all have one thing in common: they advocate greater sustainability. These people have made it their social mandate, one that embraces as many people as possible and enables as many people as possible to participate. For the most part they represent organisations and institutions in civil society.

The German Council for Sustainable Development has invited around 80 participants to a three-day event consisting of plenary meetings and workshops – could you tell us what you’ll be doing there exactly?

We’ll be looking at how sustainability policies are faring worldwide. And we want to expand our own sphere of influence. That’s more important than ever, because climate protection is being called into question and because governments are slow and hesitant to comply with their obligations with respect to SDG realisation.

What or who are you particularly looking forward to?

To everyone and to everything we produce through our joint efforts. It’s really exciting to bring so many people together who don’t constantly tour the global conference circuit with each other. We are creating something new here and all the participants are excited about it. We have to be prepared to surprise ourselves.

What outcomes are you hoping for?

I definitely expect to see some intensive mutual exchanges leading to some good ideas and approaches I can take home with me. Sharing is important. It generates new ideas and impetus for every single one of us. I’m also open to joint projects. We’ve already got some conceptual outlines and that’s why we’ve scheduled workshops. They’re supposed to serve as little hothouses where we can nurture our ideas.

What is the idea or intention behind the Open SDGclub.Berlin?

First and foremost, the German Council for Sustainable Development has a national mandate. But globalisation, and now the Sustainable Development Goals too, mean we have to overcome national limitations. Sustainability is a universal imperative. We’re demanding a new policy that goes beyond the ‘business-as-usual’ approach. But we also feel it is our duty to go the extra mile as well. ‘Walk your talk’ doesn’t just apply to our catering and event engineering, but to our political thinking and action. We know we won’t be able to achieve the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals if it’s just an elitist group conspiring to make it happen. Almost as if it’s an 18th SDG, we have to successfully ground the sustainability debate amongst the people, develop new alliances and creatively shape the way that the ‘silos’ of government, business and critical public think and act.

At first, ‘club’ might sound like a closed-shop affair – but it is qualified by the word ‘open’. How can interested parties get involved now or in the future?

Exclusive clubs consisting of high-ranking figures have earned historic merit. Think of the Club of Rome, for example. But today we need different forms of organisation. It’s not international personalities that take precedence here, but the practical competence of the actors on the ground. That’s what we mean by ‘open’. The Open SDGclub.Berlin is based on the concept of a ‘sharing society’. It’s about ‘shareware’ – meaning it’s designed to be replicated elsewhere.


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