SDG 14: Committed Care for the Oceans: A Connection of Brain, Heart and Hands

Keshini Digamber; Maximiliano Zavaleta Monforte; Virginia Rodriguez Castello; Thomas Bonnet; Salma Nibras Asriani; and Rafid Nugraha

Committed Care for the Oceans: A Connection of Brain, Heart, and Hands

Our project focuses primarily on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. This SDG englobes very different target goals that span the different aspects of ocean and maritime care, which are considered a holistic approach to tackle the potential risks that certain hazards impose on marine ecosystems and ocean resources. This goal can be further explained by the specific and measurable set of subgoals, which consist of cleaning the oceans from pollutants and debris; protecting marine and coastal ecosystems; controlling acidification of waters; controlling fishing practices attending to the natural capabilities for sustainable yields; eliminating subsidies for illegal fishing and unsustainable practices; have at least 10% of the seas classified as conserves; benefit small Island Developing States through economic measures; improve the access of developing countries to marine resources and access of artisan fishers to resources for their sustainable practices; increase scientific knowledge and resources for generation of new technologies to improve ocean health, and further the development of international law with respect to the conservation of the oceans as set by the UNCLOS framework (United Nations). The previous targets set concrete and tangible goals which can be measurable qualitatively and, in some cases, quantitatively; hence, the adoption of the resolution to achieve these goals by the UN provides a political framework and, although actions are not directly binding to the member states as per international law, it does provide a useful reference to guide key actors when planning actions that are related to the conservation of the oceans through the different paths set by the SDG.

The oceans are certainly an extremely important aspect of planet earth; one with which life would very likely not be sustainable, at least not in the way we know it or the characteristics that are currently required to hold it. 30% of carbon emissions are filtered by the oceans, and the oceans are capturing almost 90% of the heat generated by global warming, actively acting as a contention barrier from the man-made risks that the world currently faces and showing the inherent need that life on earth has on the oceans for biological survivability. Furthermore, the livelihoods of nearly 3 billion people depend on the ocean and its resources. Almost 5% of the global GDP comes from the ocean and over 200 million people are directly employed in sea-related jobs (United Nations). The previous statistics clearly outline the necessity that the world has for the ocean not only environmentally, but also economically, shedding light on the imperative need for proper management of marine resources and oceans.

There are numerous initiatives that seek to achieve the goals which have been outlined by SDG 14, and the stories outlined in the AIM2Flourish sections regarding these goals are very varied and come from all realms of business, from different countries, and from distinct sources of inspiration. With this being said, it is relevant to note that the stories, albeit them being different, share similar themes, with similarities and actions that strive to solve some particular problem regarding the oceans and the responsible and sustainable usage of its resources. The main theme which is “care of oceans” roughly correlates to some of the specific subgoals which were previously outlined, some of which include cleaning the oceans of debris and physical waste; cleaning the oceans of chemical pollutants and toxins, reuse of certain wastes and oceanic resources which currently had no usage, and creation and preservation of marine habitats and ecosystems. Many of the initiatives contained in the stories offer potential ways to assist, directly or indirectly, in the preservation of the oceans, some of which link to methods, goals, and organisational actions which have been proposed and outlined in academic literature.

First and foremost, it is important to note that reiterated literature and meta-reviews have concluded that there is a lack of oceanic indicators to measure the progress in the specific subgoals outlined in the globally comprehensive SDG 14 (Recuero, 2018). Hence, the availability of data/literature or lack thereof can be most accurately explained by this phenomenon. At the same time, this situation sheds light on an important aspect to be worked on which is the development of accurate indicators or systems of measure. Certain studies, such as that by Gulseven specifically used the Ocean Health Index and its indicators to measure achievements in the United Arab Emirates, yielding positive measuring results on a national level (Gulseven, 2020).

Conceptual interpretations of SDG 14 highlight the importance of setting constraints to avoid depletion of coastal areas’ resources by using specific targets (14.2 and 14.5) as constraints functions with the views of future policy-making and rule-based regulations specifically due to the increase in activity in such areas, effectively setting measurable boundaries to the usage of resources obtained from the sea (Neumann et al., 2017). This article suggests a policy-based approach, and links the aforementioned targets to functional constraints, a solution specifically directed toward policymakers.

On the other hand, the authors have suggested a more hands-on approach and specifically target business initiatives that make sustainable usage of marine resources, such as many of the ones contained in the stories reviewed in this essay. For instance, Palomino (2020) suggests fish skin leather processing as a sustainable alternative to leather, which would also prevent skin decomposing which creates harmful water conditions, emphasis is also made on the sustainable farming of the fish. Other authors mention the possible effectiveness of sustainable fisheries, as a way to alleviate sustainability issues in the ocean and interconnect it with other SDGs (Diz et al, 2019). In the following sections, we will review the content of the AIM2Flourish stories and their grouping in certain themes, which we consider to add value in line with the initiatives proposed in the literature. We wrap our work by discussing our key takeaways from this project and how we have developed a sustainability mindset that encourages us to move to action.

A Look at the AIM2Flourish Stories
The AIM2Flourish stories analysed in this project show a concise trend in the impact that different innovations make, which closely and directly relate to conserving and sustainably using the ocean, seas, and marine resources, making the stories primarily related to SDG 14, Life Below Water. How each story addresses an issue that relates to life below water are different, although the core of the innovations circles the care of the oceans. In certain stories, we were able to identify other SDGs that show as a collateral effect of making a responsible usage of marine resources, which is a clear indicator of how sustainability, especially as seen through the scope of the SDGs, is closely interrelated in the different paths through which it manifests. The innovations outlined in the various stories tackle different aspects of SDG 14 and come from very different realms of business; ranging from skincare to mineral water, from biofuels to clean-up of debris and chemical waste from oceans; from biodegradable packaging to efficient recycling of certain plastic wastes. All these initiatives, although varied, targets SDG 14 which in one way or another relates toward building a sustainable relationship with the oceans and its resources.

The various approaches taken by each business seek to improve the relationship with human development and the care of the oceans by protecting marine life and ecosystems. Using the resources responsibly, cleaning, and preventing contamination from physical debris and chemical agents are some of the business initiatives that directly approach the goals of SDG 14. The importance of addressing the preservation of the oceans is imperative for all life on earth, given the vastness of resources that are essential for life to come from the ocean.

The ocean provides many of the essential resources that are needed for planet earth to sustain life, yet it is also clear that the economical component of life below water is essential for the livelihood of a very large proportion of humankind. Thus, SDG 14 aims to find an efficient compromise between the usage of the ocean’s resources as a source of economic prosperity, while at the same time maintaining the ocean’s natural integrity which is necessary for life on earth to be possible as we know it. Hence, the different initiatives described in this paper will show how flourishing enterprises can find a middle ground between both necessities. The themes highlight how the AIM2Flourish stories have incorporated the stakeholder theory and the 5Ps while caring for the ocean and addressing SDG targets. The final theme distinguishes between incidental innovations and conscious commitments to help care for the oceans.

Flourishing Enterprises, Stakeholder Theory, and the 5Ps
All sixteen businesses have proven to be flourishing enterprises as they address some of the key features of the 5Ps (people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership) in various ways while following the stakeholder theory. Traditionally, business practices were mainly guided by cost-efficiency (Ritz & Rimanoczy, 2021), to maximise financial profits, but the stakeholder theory tells us that organisations provide more value for customers, suppliers, employees, investors, and the wider community while also keeping these stakeholders engaged with the organisation (Kessler, 2013). Each AIM2Flourish story highlights an efficient business with an excellent reputation where focus is placed on behaviour and ethics. The interconnection between business and stakeholders have grown into a strong attraction for the good and/or services that the company provides.

Many of the stories show their commitment to ensuring prosperity and working in partnerships. CARTO, PT Aruna Jaya Nusantara, and Sea Going Green are three flourishing enterprises that offer information, allowing transparency and consciousness in decision making. These businesses influence those whose activity does have a direct impact on the marine environment, offering them the opportunity to change. The UN has considered this, recognizing that non-industrial efforts are as valuable as those that help change mindsets. First Mile is committed to the people component of the sustainable development goal as they support entrepreneurs in underdeveloped nations. Peace is targeted by a few of the businesses that encourage inclusive societies by working along with indigenous members of the community, as well as promoting women in the workforce (Aceflex SAS and Veriphy Skincare).

Each of the stories highlights a determination to protect the planet from degradation. This will be further discussed in the following section as we highlight how enterprises take care of oceans while also contributing to the achievement of SDGs targets. The final theme also helps to better explain how these businesses are truly flourishing as it highlights how many of the leaders and founders are interconnected with the world around them. These leaders have developed innovations that lead to positive contributions to the ecosystem and have made commitments to not just the environment but social aspects as well.

Care of Oceans and Addressing SDG Targets
Each story is unique and as a result, every business has developed an innovation that helps to contribute to SDG 14 through a wide spectrum of actions. Apart from addressing SDG 14, all sixteen AIM2Flourish stories also addressed at least one other SDG such as SDG 15, Life on Land, by ensuring that natural habitats are not degraded by pollution or by using technologies or activities that assist in conserving biodiversity and ecosystems. Nonetheless, in their distinctiveness, there are common elements among the stories that allow them to be grouped into categories that highlight the theme of care for oceans, proving that to achieve this goal, different measurements can be taken. Therefore, to care for oceans enterprises can: (1) develop technology that directly contributes to the reduction of marine pollution; (2) transform waste into useful products or integrate it into an industrial process; or (3) manipulate natural processes as a medium to care for oceans.

The first category is the enterprises that offer either a product or service that directly targets 14.1 by reducing marine pollution. The business innovations and activities of 4ocean, Recyclamer Innovation, and T. Baker Smith, focus on cleaning up the ocean and coastlines by removing harmful marine debris and foreign water agents and, by doing so, they repair the damage that human activities inflict on the marine ecosystem. Essentially, their approach to “caring for oceans” is to take responsibility for the damaging result of polluting activities These businesses also target SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, through target 6.3 as they focus on improving water quality by removing hazardous chemicals and materials from oceans.

Another way of taking care of oceans is by giving a second life to waste known for its detrimental effects on the marine environment by either turning it into a useful product or by introducing it in a productive process. The first case is exemplified by Arqlite, First Mile, and Lush which turn plastics into useful products such as construction materials. The second case is exemplified by Newport Restaurant Group and Providentiel Coquillages, who turn wasteful materials into key elements of their manufacture, the former using recycled oil in their restaurants and the latter remineralizing water by filtering through clamshells. What characterises this approach to SDG 14 is the search for innovative outlooks on residues such that they are no longer considered a waste, but a solution to prevent its production. Their focus is to reduce any possible marine pollution through recycling residue so that it does not reach the ocean, therefore avoiding the harmful impact that it would surely have on the oceans if they were not transformed by these companies. In comparison to the category discussed before, these companies take care of oceans by preventing their damage, instead of tackling the damage that already ills them. Through sustainable actions to protect the coastal ecosystem, the businesses are contributing to target 14.2. These businesses also address SDG12, Responsible Production and Consumption, through target 12.5 as they substantially reduce waste generation.

Bugs For Bugs, Catalina Sea Ranch, and ORA Estuaries make up the third category as they all have either a product or service which relies on natural processes. Not only do they achieve the targets of restoring ecosystems and conserving coastal and marine areas, but by doing so they also are reducing marine pollution and ocean acidification. In addition, these advances would not be possible if it wasn’t for the investment in scientific and technical knowledge for ocean health, another target of SDG 14. Of the various categories, these enterprises are truly flourishing target-wise, as they cover many targets at once. The singularity of this approach is that their success doesn’t depend on themselves, rather on the natural process they jump-start artificially. In other words, nature is used to heal nature.

Life Experiences Leading to Conscious Commitments to Sustainability
In the current business environment, most businesses are designed to reduce negative impacts and are not focused on contributing to a healthy world (Laszlo et al, 2014). Aceflex SAS, Arqlite, Lush, and Newport Restaurant Group, were not created with their current sustainability practices and thus their activities are more aligned with reducing their negative impacts with reactive actions. Additionally, Lush and Newport Restaurant Group were the two largest businesses with Lush having over 10,000 employees as compared to most of the other businesses which are considered small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Their sustainable activities were adopted after the creation of the business and Newport Restaurant Group has not been able to incorporate sustainability initiatives into all its locations.  However, these businesses have made changes to their models that allow sustainable practices to become integrated into their activities through using plastic and other waste.

On the other hand, we see proactive business initiatives where most of the businesses were created because the founder or CEO was passionate about making a difference through sustainable business activities that solve concrete problems. This highlights the final theme of conscious choices made to contribute to a healthy world through business innovation. The other AIM2Flourish stories assigned to this research included businesses with leaders who are passionate about being actively engaged in practices that align with sustainability and achieving prosperity. Of these fourteen businesses, the founders were inspired through their education, having ideas through work or childhood experiences, or simply being exposed to environmental and social issues during a vacation trip.

After a trip to Haiti, the business idea for recycling plastic in third-world countries led to the creation of First Mile. 4ocean was created after two enthusiastic surfers were struck by garbage at Bali’s shorelines, and the founder of Sea Going Green developed the environmental consulting company after reflecting on summer vacation in Croatia. For one of the founders of Providentiel Coquillages, inspiration came from his grandmother who used oyster shells to feed hens. These stories all show how life experiences create emotional connections that influence personal values which then leads to a desire to innovate and create holistic change (Laszlo et al, 2014). Reflection on everyday experiences led to the development of a sustainability mindset where these leaders became committed to creating innovations with holistic impacts.

Our Critical Reflection
Can a Flourishing Enterprise be both Profitable and Sustainable?
Analysing the sixteen AIM2Flourish stories truly pushed the members of this group to think deeper about the global business trend of addressing sustainability as a business principle. Traditionally, we were exposed to businesses that followed the Friedman doctrine of maximising profits. However, each AIM2Flourish story uses a business strategy that capitalises on not just economic objectives but social, and environmental objectives as well. These businesses all prove that it is possible to generate financial profits through sustainable practices. A few of our team members were truly impacted by this as we have more of an economics and business background where our education has exposed us to the financial commitment that needs to be made in terms of funding a business, as well as all the complex elements of organisation, management, and administration that are fundamental for a business to be profitable.

If the complexity of setting up a successful business is already challenging for traditional non-sustainable businesses, as economics majors, a few of us thought that having a sustainable business that is a flourishing enterprise, would not exactly translate into being highly profitable. This is because sustainable practices were viewed by us as more of a hopeless illusion than a reality. We often associate sustainable actions with higher costs and the core economics model teaches us that firms want to maximise their profits by keeping their costs low. What a wonderful surprise it was to find out how wrong we were because sustainable practices do not necessarily translate to higher costs.

Sustainability and profitability were opposites in our minds until now. All the AIM2Flourish stories have proven to us that sustainable practices are not detrimental to economic performance. Many of these businesses started with a handful of employees and have grown tremendously. This shows that sustainability can be a competitive advantage to encourage profitability. Of course, these are big words, and we are not, in any way, trying to set a new theory, but we can surely confirm that we no longer believe in sustainability as a “scourge” of a business, but as a thriving force that drives these enterprises forward. Therefore, one of our key takeaways is that a business can be a flourishing enterprise by making economic profits from activities that contribute to multiple SDGs and targets.

Additionally, from the various stories we have been exposed to in this project, we realised that there is not just one textbook format to follow in order to contribute to the SDGs. When tackling a single SDG such as the common SDG 14 in the stories assigned to us, each company used a different approach. Therefore, the key element for a company to successfully contribute to a sustainable goal is to be inquisitive and open-minded. Some companies used a proactive, problem-solution approach, looking for sustainable solutions to real-life issues. Others were involved in reactive initiatives, and they took their already established business and modified it to serve the SDG.

Developing a Sustainability Mindset: Connection of Brain and Heart
Reading these stories has uniquely inspired each member as our brain and heart become connected through thoughts and feelings. Change and impact are closer than what one may think. Most students believe that there is nothing that they can do to contribute to the SDGs. But these stories have proven that the ability to provoke real change lies in the awareness of one’s environment and experiences. We can all create change by simply looking for issues that currently ill our communities or by finding new ways to use previously overlooked materials because, as we previously noted, inspiration for some of the stories came from everyday experiences. The founders were practising mindfulness and so, we have gained an understanding that reflection on our experiences is fundamental as it can help us recognize opportunities to make meaningful changes that contribute to a healthy world.

However, human behaviour is shaped by our personal beliefs, values, and assumptions (Ritz & Rimanoczy, 2021). Thus, for us, or any student or person, to put all their efforts into researching, compromising, and developing, we need to feel that sustainability is personal to us. Truly believing that sustainability is something that each one can assume, that sustainability weighs on one’s shoulders, is the key element that brings it all together and results in people taking action and being innovative as featured in the AIM2Flourish stories. This is why we are grateful for this project, for it has led to sustainability becoming intertwined with our core beliefs and values which will undoubtedly stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Although we owe every business this result, some of them have touched us personally. Most of the members of our group felt connected to the stories that belonged in the category mentioned above of using natural processes to help care for the oceans. After a heartfelt discussion, we concluded that the common factor that had led most of the team members to choose a favourite story is the fact that the solution to the damage inflicted on nature is found in nature itself. How humbling it is to confirm that nature is wiser, that, even if we design sophisticated machinery, the most ingenious and effective solutions are hidden in natural processes that have been present all along but, sadly, because of our own doing, we have deteriorated their presence in the environment. The nickname we have come up with to define all these initiatives that enhance natural processes to increase sustainability is “nature curing nature”. We find that these solutions are the ones that feel more right to us because there is no need to ponder if these techniques are going to be damaging in the long run, since they are already part of the natural environment.

Moved to Action with our Hands
A majority of the AIM2Flourish stories included businesses that are SMEs, and reading these stories has made us realise that it is not just up to the government and large corporations to be innovative and encourage change. We initially thought that UN SDGs were something to be tackled by large organisations that have the funds to create large-scale impacts. While the government and large corporations do have an integral role to play, we can now see that it is part of everyone’s responsibility to do something. Each individual’s effort can have a small marginal effect, but when we all engage in sustainable actions together in the short run, there will be a collective effort that will have a positive impact in the long run.

After analysing these stories, the members of this group have gained key skills of being more aware of how SMEs in our surroundings are aligned more with sustainable practices as compared to other larger companies that are simply now jumping on to incorporating corporate social responsibility (CSR) through activities that are not core to the business. The difference between being proactive, where leaders are making a conscious effort to integrate sustainability into core business operations, and reactive, where businesses are making new changes, is important. We are aware of how easily a CSR initiative can be cut from a business to save costs and are now more critical when assessing if a business is truly flourishing.

We all agree that sustainable actions can be incorporated into our everyday lives through simple acts of recycling, purchasing fewer products that use plastic, and supporting more sustainable businesses. As students, we tend to go for the cheapest option when we need to purchase a good or service but since developing a sustainability mindset, we are forced to take a step back and question if cost-effectiveness should be prioritised over a more sustainable option. We are now finding ourselves in an ethical dilemma when faced with going for our default option of whatever is cheapest as compared to supporting responsible consumption. We recognize that small changes in our consumption habits are a good starting point and we have been more conscious of this.

Apart from making changes to our current everyday life habits, a few of our members are also moved to take action in our futures. Those of us that see ourselves as entrepreneurs have been inspired to one day be featured in an AIM2Flourish story through either building a business with a unique innovation or making changes in an existing family business to reduce the negative impacts on the environment and society. On the other hand, some of us are not that entrepreneurial but are committed to contributing towards achieving the SDG targets through partnerships with the government and organisations, or educational platforms that can raise awareness about sustainable practices.

At the beginning of this project, we were all unsure of what the experience would be but reading about the many extraordinary innovations has proven that there are multiple ways to become involved in addressing the SDG targets. This experience has truly led to transformative learning as noted by Lessem (1998) where there has been an interplay between our thoughts on the AIM2Flourish stories, the sustainability mindset we have developed, and the changes in our behaviour that will encourage action in our future. At the end of the day, it does not matter if sustainability is being embraced by governments and multinational corporations, SMEs with innovative actions, or individuals changing their consumption habits. Small and large changes are all a good start towards achieving the UN SDGs and a healthy world for the future.

Our Team Work and Lessons Learned
Our team consisted of 6 students coming from various corners of the world with different cultural backgrounds. Despite being an international group, we easily connected as technology made it simple for us to have weekly meetings and discuss our expectations and plans for this project. Working in an international group forced us to have more consideration of the schedules of others as we had to take into account not just the various demands of each group member but also the varying time zones. However, we didn’t encounter any major difficulties as time zone differences could be overcome by finding a common time that worked for all members. From what we felt, having a weekly schedule as a requirement was beneficial as it allowed us to organize meetings at a set time to commit to completing parts of the project.

Considering the meetings that we have done through these last few weeks, we can conclude that there is no significant difference between all of us despite being culturally different. We tended to agree on all the main points and themes highlighted earlier which could be due to the fact that we are all of a younger generation that shares similar views from being globally interconnected. Even when considering Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions, we found that we are more similar than Hofstede’s dimensions might suggest. Being engaged in cross-cultural dynamics was exciting and we got new insights from each other. Our culture represents how we perceive the world and our team’s diverse perspectives provide many new ideas that encourage each other to perceive the workplace and the world in new ways.

The main difficulty which could be attributed to cultural differences is the lack of confidence in the English-speaking skills of some of the group members. However, we encouraged members to write things down that they had difficulty saying or even speaking in a language they were well acquainted with and then have another member translate it for others. It was a unique experience for each of us to have the opportunity to collaborate with other eager university students, but we do believe that interaction might have been higher if all our meetings were not recorded. During unrecorded meetings, the members were more comfortable sharing personal details that brought cross-cultural dynamics to life. We also had more meaningful conversations during unrecorded meetings where the members tried their best to express their views despite their weak English-speaking skills.

As with all group work, there are always a few hurdles where there might not be a full commitment by some members to assigned tasks. While this can lead to disagreements, we managed to avoid these problems by having other members do a little extra work while others were busy. We worked in various subgroups for some sections and those who felt they worked better on their own tackled some of the work independently. This might not have been the best strategy because those who worked independently did not experience the same cross-cultural exposure as those who worked in subgroups. If we could do this project all over again, there is not much that we would change. Having professors who were willing to assist with any bumps along the road has immensely helped us to complete this project with a new sustainability mindset.


Table 1: AIM2Flourish Stories

Title URL Business Name
4ocean 4ocean
A Solution for the Plastic Waste Contamination Problem Arqlite
The Future of Pest Management Bugs For Bugs
Using Data to Change the World CARTO
Clean Energy from the Sea? Catalina Sea Ranch
From Plastic to Fashion First Mile
Turning Ocean Plastic Waste into Packaging Lush
A New Meaning to Clean Eating Newport Restaurant Group
How Artificial Oyster Beds Save Coastal Areas ORA Estuaries
Circular Economy World Is (in) Your Oyster Providentiel Coquillages
Jalas Veva Jaya Mahe PT Aruna Jaya Nusantara
Recyclamer: The Water Vacuum Recyclamer Innovation
Tourism Goes Green, Keeping Oceans Staying Blue Sea Going Green
A Solution to Manmade Disaster: The Rigid Pipe Boom T. Baker Smith
A Budding Idea: Plant-Based Cosmetics Veriphy Skincare


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Critical Reflections on Innovative Flourishing Businesses in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals Copyright © 2022 by Keshini Digamber; Maximiliano Zavaleta Monforte; Virginia Rodriguez Castello; Thomas Bonnet; Salma Nibras Asriani; and Rafid Nugraha is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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