In the recently released joint report by the UKIFC and GEFI, banking customers discussed their perceptions regarding the UN and UN SDGs, and revealed where their values lie.

The report, Attitudes of banking customers towards the UN SDGs, took a particularly interesting approach as so often the focus is on how the UN SDGs can be integrated into a financial portfolio. Research is often framed from the perspective of the asset manager, government, or special interest nonprofit. Speaking directly to banking customers in different countries reveals the concerns of everyday people, not just industry experts.

Of the top UN SDGs that banking customers focused on, both the Global North and Global South prioritized Quality Education (Goal 4) (30% and 29%, respectively). There is an awareness of how vital it is, not only for children but for adults, to continue learning and growing as the challenges we face as a planet evolve. This goal spans generations and genders, as it highlights the importance of lifelong and gender-inclusive learning.

The top priorities for both Global North and Global South were focused around social equity and quality of life. Quality Education sets the foundation for the other goals of Zero Hunger (Goal 2), Gender Equality (Goal 5), Clean Water & Sanitation (Goal 6), and Affordable & Clean Energy (Goal 7).

Interestingly, the UN SDGs with the least amount of awareness for both the Global North and Global South are Life Below Water (Goal 14) and Life on Land (Goal 15), likely because they are broad, far-reaching goals. Both of these goals significantly impact those living in vulnerable areas such as islands or in areas sensitive to climate shifts, but they can come across as abstract concepts for people who don’t experience direct impacts of climate change in their daily lives.

The other SDGs that received the lowest engagement are Responsible Consumption & Production (Goal 12) and Partnerships for the Goals (Goal 17). Given that this survey targeted banking customers, it is likely that those particular goals seem best addressed at an institutional level. In support of this, it is worth noting that survey participants were strongly in favour of their banking institutions offering sustainability products.

The Global North and Global South agreed that Reducing Poverty and Hunger was the most important UN SDG to consumers. Of the global population, 8.9% are undernourished and roughly 8% are living in extreme poverty, meaning that these issues impact over 650 million people. With increasing environmental risks from climate change, these percentages are likely to increase as a direct result of droughts, shifting weather patterns, and planetary stress.

Recent publications from ESG Today to Reuters have stressed the importance of ‘zooming out’ to see the bigger picture beyond environmental metrics. It is important to remember that while we focus on particular issues, all of the UN SDGs are connected in one way or another. In cleaning up the oceans (Goal 6), we can create quality employment (Goals 7, 8, and 9), healthier communities (Goals 3, 11, and 12), and encourage global collaborations to unite and strengthen our sense of global community (Goals 16 and 17).