Sustainable Development Goal 8 is often described as the economic growth goal. However, this simplified definition generates the impression that SDGs are divided between sustainable goals and development goals with goal number eight firmly in the second group. In fact, this interpretation is challenged when we look more in-depth at this SDG, starting from its full “name”. The complete title of SDG-8 is “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. We can already see that the goal is not to sustain any type of growth, but specifically, it discusses inclusive and sustainable growth.
Moreover, it is not growth for growth’s sake, but economic development to provide quality job opportunities for everyone.
This double focus on both the macro (i.e., the economy as a whole) and the micro (i.e., individual workers) remains when we use our Circular Health lens to look at the connection between this SDG and the health and well-being of people, animals, plants and the environment.
At the macro level, economic growth, especially in developing countries, generates additional resources that can be used to improve people’s well-being: if nothing else, healthcare systems are expensive! Moreover, SDG-8 “endeavor [s] to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation” by improving the efficiency of the economy. Besides increasing the efficiency of productive processes, one specific strategy described in its targets is sustainable tourism. The goal is to create jobs that pay better while having smaller environmental impacts than traditional or industrial jobs. Moreover, when associated with environmental resources (i.e., important ecosystems, wildlife, forests), this type of tourism could provide grounds for the local and global community to prioritize the protection and preservation of these resources, benefiting the health of the planet as a whole.
At the micro level SDG-8 aims to achieve decent work for all. But what does “decent work” mean, and why is it important? If we look at the details, we see that the goal is to create jobs that are safe and secure, especially for more vulnerable demographics such as women, young people, migrant workers, and persons with disabilities. Working in a safe environment (i.e., protection from toxic chemicals, and safety measures to limit the risk of accidents) has obvious health benefits; but secure employment is associated with better health and well-being as well.
Knowing that a paycheck is coming every week and that you cannot be fired suddenly reduces stress: which is one of the main causes of heart disease and internal friction within families. Moreover, stable jobs are more likely to include benefits such as sick leave and better access to healthcare. Having the possibility to regularly go to the doctor allows people to identify potential health issues early on, increasing the chances of addressing them successfully. More specifically, this goal also aims to eradicate forced labor and human trafficking, as well as to strictly control child labor: all conditions that greatly affect the well-being of individuals both in the short and long term.
To conclude, I want to stress once again how SDG-8 and its focus on economic growth does not mean that it is not linked to sustainability and health. Actually, economic growth is fundamental, especially in developing countries, to generate much-needed resources to improve the well-being of the people. What this SDG recommends is to remember that economic growth is not an end, but a means to support and promote the health and well-being of people as well as of the planet on which they live.
By: Dr. Luca Mantegazza | Research Program Coordinator