Switzerland and the SDGs: up to the job?

Switzerland ranks 7th in the Sustainable Development Index. However, we still face important challenges for ourselves and for the planet. Here is our analysis and recommendations.
Sandra Wirth

The ambition of this article is on the one hand to give an overview, on the other hand to serve as a portal to key references.

First progress report submitted to the UN

July 2018 marks an important first milestone for Switzerland: within the framework of the UN High Level Political Forum, it is asked to present its first progress report on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Integrating social, environmental and economic dimensions, the MDGs are a list of 17 tasks to transform the world by 2030. This Agenda 2030 was negotiated and approved by 193 countries in 2015.

The Confederation prepared this report over two years. It did so in consultation with many stakeholders, including cantons and communes, non-governmental organizations, political parties, the private sector, academia and civil society (including ourselves). This consultative process resulted in a comprehensive and differentiated 89-page report.

A dramatic twist follows. Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis decides to publish a light version of the report (28 pages). He considers the original version too long and too critical (see the article in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Ambassador Michael Gerber’s interview on RTS).

This approach led the Plattform Agenda 2030, representing civil society, to publish its own report, more incisive, only 2 weeks later.

In the end, the Confederation published the full 89-page report in early July.

Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard at the UN and an analysis of Swiss news on the subject (19:30, 18 July 2018).

What is Switzerland's real performance regarding SDGs?

The ODD reports produced in Switzerland remain very dense and do not offer synthetic and accessible presentations. Furthermore, the Confederation only publishes the evolution of the indicators, based on the Monet system of the Federal Statistical Office, without their actual value. The trend and value of the indicator are necessary for a valid interpretation. For example, the proportion of young people neither in employment nor in training is increasing (negative trend), but remains low (8.7%) compared to other countries.

That is why we prefer to refer to the SDG index of the Bertelsmann Foundation, which publishes a world report every year.

According to this index, Switzerland ranks 7th out of 156 countries, which is a nice result (Source: Dashboard SDGindex.org). It should be noted that beyond the usual Nordic countries, France and Germany are also ahead of us.

swiss-ranking-sdg-index-2018 - 360impact
swiss-ranking-sdg-index-2018 - 360impact

Nevertheless, when we look at Switzerland’s performance in a more differentiated way, we note the following issues (based on the value of the indicator and not its evolution):

  • Gender inequalities SDG5 and number of women in scientific occupations ODD9
  • Increasing income inequality SDG10
  • Insufficiently responsible consumption and production SDG12
  • CO2 production too high SDG13
  • Biodiversity in Switzerland and abroad affected SDG15
  • Finances lacking transparency ODD17

In short, it is above all the inequalities and damage that our behaviour causes abroad that affects our results.

Based on this report, we have prepared the graphic below for Switzerland (the two grey dots indicate that the evolution of the indicator cannot be evaluated at this stage),


and abstract of the two detailed pages.

Is Switzerland performing to its full potential?

The Business School Lausanne and the University of St. Gallen have developed the Gap Frame tool. It is a normative framework that translates the MDGs into relevant measures for each country, highlighting the gap between our current situation and the one we need so that we can all live well on one planet.


In other words, Gap Frame shows our potential based on our intrinsic skills and capacity.

In this reference framework, Switzerland only ranks 16th, in particular because of its negative impact on the planet: today, the Swiss population does not live within the ecological limits of the planet, while respecting the Earth’s regenerative capacity!

Chapatte’s drawing in Le Temps illustrates well the ambiguous relationship between the Swiss and sustainable development.

To conclude

It is now that we must face reality: we cannot continue to consume the equivalent of more than 3 planets.

In our country, everything is clean in order: we do not see the damage we cause, which however affects people elsewhere.

The reality is already complex, and what our future will look like is even more complex. That is why we believe in a combination of several measures, including:

  • The integration of sustainable development into business models, the functioning of organizations and the behaviour of individuals (see sustainable development tools).
  • The use of collective intelligence to develop innovative solutions that lead to progress (stakeholders: companies, universities, public service, civil society).
  • Increased public and private investment with a positive societal return (see social investment tools).
  • Taking into account, internationalizing the negative effects on sustainability in product and service prices (for example via smart contracts based on blockchain).
  • Impact measurement according to recognized standards, both for States, public and private organizations, and for individuals (see impact measurement tools).
  • Transparent publication of results in a format accessible to the greatest number.
  • Information to all stakeholders and the learning of new behaviours, via training and social marketing.
  • Incentive measures (e.g. Minergie standards for housing) and reinforced integration of the sustainable development dimension into legal texts.


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