SDG Impact Assessment Tool on a laptop screen.
The free online SDG Impact Assessment Tool can be used for research, education and other activities to assess impact on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Photo: GMV

Unexpected users of tool for global goals


The SDG Impact Assessment Tool was launched just over two years ago to help universities and smaller companies in particular gain a better understanding of how different types of activities affect the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Now a survey has been made of who the users of the tool are. The result both confirms and surprises.

Two years ago, the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (GMV) at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg launched a free web tool called the SDG Impact Assessment Tool. The purpose of the tool is to help organizations gain a better understanding of how different types of activities affect the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The tool was originally developed for Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg, other universities, and smaller companies. Now the sustainability network SDSN Northern Europe, which is hosted by GMV, assists in distributing the tool globally. A first survey of who the users are shows that the tool has spread significantly further than expected.

“The result both confirms and surprises. We certainly knew that the tool reached more than the intended target groups, but not to this extent” says Anders Ahlbäck who is the project manager for the development of the tool.

Universities are large users

Currently, the tool has 7000 users and every week around 500 of them log in to the tool. In addition to employees and students at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg, there are representatives from University West, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Luleå University of Technology on the list of most frequent users.

Internationally, the universities of Ghent and Turku stand out as frequent users but there are users at universities in most European countries, North America, and Australia.

Decision-makers and other groups that surprise

Other industries that are prominent among users are research institutes, financiers, sustainability consultants, small businesses and start-ups, as well as municipalities and municipal companies.

“We have interest from municipalities mainly in Sweden but also in Norway and Finland. For some time now, we have started a collaboration with Strängnäs municipality and the Sörmland region to build experience on how the tool can be applied in planning processes and strategic work”, says Martin Eriksson who is a researcher at Chalmers and responsible for the network SDSN Northern Europe.

Just like municipalities, different types of financiers can make a big difference when it comes to sustainable development. Therefore, it is interesting that this group is well represented among the users. There are various types of financiers from Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Norway, such as research funders, incubators, venture capital companies, and foundations that offer financial support.

“It is exciting to see that several different types of decision-makers have found our tool and want to address Agenda 2030 and the sustainability goals with the help of it. If the tool is used to create a broad, objective, and anchored basis for decision-making, there is potential to have a real effect on the development of society”, Anders continues.

Some users are unexpected, such as multinational technology companies, religious communities, a non-profit organization for renting apartments in the UK, and a gaming company.

“Yes, it's a little extra fun to see because it means that the tool is so simple and flexible that it works in many different types of contexts, both for multinational corporate giants as well as more socially supportive businesses and smaller players”, says Anders.

How the tool is used at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg

The SDG Impact Assessment Tool has been used in several different contexts within Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg's operations since it was launched.

In teaching, the tool has been used in several courses at Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg, where students themselves have performed sustainability analyses.

It has also been used for strategy and planning. For example, the Transport Area of Advance at Chalmers has drawn up an action plan based on results from the tool. Five of seven parts of Chalmers' climate strategy have been evaluated with the tool to identify if the climate strategic work could have a negative impact on other sustainability aspects. The sustainability plan in Chalmers' prioritized business development (PVU) uses the tool to map the contribution to the implementation of Agenda 2030.

The tool has also been used in research and research funding. Several research funders are placing increasing demands on researchers to show how their applications contribute to the sustainability goals, and then researchers have used the tool as support. For example, the tool has been used in the research program MISTRA Carbon Exit to map the impact on sustainability goals from scenarios for how Sweden will achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases in 2045.

In the innovation area, the tool has been tested by Chalmers Ventures and GU Ventures to estimate the impact on the sustainability goals for the innovations they work with.

“We have spent quite a lot of time understanding whether the tool is suitable for different applications within a university. Now we know that it works well in education and research as well as in strategic work, planning, and various evaluations”, says Anders. “It all depends on what starting point you have and what boundaries you make.”

How the survey was done

Data generated in the tool is completely confidential through encryption and is only available to the user himself. The only data available is the email address used to log in. It is the counting of the number of users and the endings in the email addresses that have provided clues to the compilation of users that has now been made. No deeper analysis than that can be done, and it is a conscious choice of the project manager.

“Users can feel completely safe filling in anything in their account. This is a prerequisite for the tool to work in many different industries. We can be as curious as we like about the content, but we will not go further than this”, says Anders.

A global tool for global goals

The compilation includes which countries are represented. It is widespread both in Europe and in the rest of the world: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Canada, USA, Australia, China, Tanzania, Egypt, Thailand, and Japan.

Next step

The highest wish among those who use the tool today is to have the tool translated into their own language. Now Anders can offer good news.

“We have just started a project to transfer the tool to a new web platform to translate the tool into as many languages ​​as we can handle”, says Anders. “We believe that it will increase the spread of those who use the tool even more. It will be very exciting to follow!”

SDG Impact Assessment Tool

The SDG Impact Assessment Tool is operated and developed by the Gothenburg Center for Sustainable Development, a centre shared between Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Northern Europe helps spread information about the tool globally.

Want to try SDG Impact Assessment Tool? Click here!

Here is a guide on how to approach the tool depending on whether you are a researcher, teacher, or working in another type of business.

In the LinkedIn group for SDG Impact Assessments, you get the latest updates and some tips and tricks.