Implementing Sustainable Development Goals in European Libraries

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly approved the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development including 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Agenda, adopted by all Member States of the United Nations, provides a roadmap for UN countries towards sustainable prosperity, social inclusion and equality while at the same time preserving our planet and leaving no one behind (Read Ambassador Stefanile’s interview).

All countries share the responsibility to contribute, within the limits of their capacity, to the attainment of UN SDGs. All of them embark upon specific ways of implementing goals and targets. The UN suggested to Member States to draft Voluntary National Reviews in order to take stock of and assess the progress – and shortcomings – of their implementation.

Sustainable Development Goals in Europe

European approach to Sustainable Development
The approval of the UN 2030 Agenda in 2015 did not find the European Union unprepared. A European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development had been running since 2001. In the face of the new, ambitious UN programme, the EU presented its response in November 2016 and initiated a sustainable development package, which reflects the priorities set up by Member Countries. A multi-stakeholder platform, including high-level experts and policy-makers in sustainability issues across all EU countries, was set up in 2017 to support and advise the European Commission on the implementation of the SDGs at EU level.

Why is a European approach to Sustainable Development necessary?

There are several reasons why the EU approach can be considered different from the one set up at UN level.


The goals are interpreted according to the EU context.

For example, Goal No. 1, “No Poverty” is considered to be a multidimensional phenomenon. EU Programmes and projects within Goal n. 1 normally envisage breaking the poverty chain, according to which children born into poverty bear a higher risk of poverty in adult life than those not born into poverty.

Goal No. 2, “Zero Hunger” in Europe focusses more on food wastage and food security than on food shortage. Unlike many disadvantaged regions of the world, which face hunger, the EU’s central nutritional challenge is obesity; therefore, the European Commission has given priority to the fight against obesity and encouraging organic farming.


Sustainability indicators in the European Union reflect the priority changes described in EU Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Eurostat has set up its own series of indicators. In most cases they mirror those present in the UN SDG scheme. In several cases, however, EU indicators depart from them and evaluate sub-targets which are EU country specific. For instance, the main Eurostat indicator assessing the implementation of Goal n. 2 is the percentage of obesity in population – an indicator which is not present among the 13 UN indicators used to measure the attainment of Goal n. 2 at international level.


EU programmes and projects have been subjected to a re-think and re-adapting in order to comply with UN SDGs. The European Commission has made extensive efforts to introduce sustainability elements into EU activities integrating the SDG targets. A large amount of funding opportunities are therefore available to European stakeholders involved in the implementation of SDGs, provided that they take into account EU specific policies and the objectives set up by EU programmes.
European libraries, too, can apply to EU schemes in order to consolidate and boost their activities in favour of sustainable development. They have to keep in mind, however, that there is a specific European approach that differs from that of the UN in terms of SDG interpretation, assessment and funding criteria.

Libraries in Europe

European libraries may be tempted to place more emphasis on several goals and discard others that don’t align with presumed European priorities. Goal n. 2, for instance, may be felt “inappropriate” to a European library framework since there are few cases of malnourishment, food insecurity, malnutrition and stunting in Europe or, if they exist, they are concentrated in a relatively small number of areas. This lack of a European perspective is misleading. SDGs in Europe are more often about changes in lifestyle and individual habits. Therefore, the fight against obesity can also become a priority for European libraries which could, in association with the third-party sectors (NGOs, associations and charitable organisations), initiate awareness activities and training events aiming to weaken the presence of bad nutritional habits among library users.


EBLIDA, the European Bureau of Library, Documentation and Information Associations, has the responsibility of carrying out a European approach to Sustainable Development. IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, has meritoriously advocated for the inclusion of access to information in the framework of the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

It is now time to go beyond the international approach and to link library SDG initiatives to regional / national ways of sustaining development as described by SDG Voluntary National Reviews.

EBLIDA has the task to increase awareness about the European way to Sustainable Development, to support European libraries in the attainment of UN SDGs, to compare library indicators and EU sustainability indicators and, finally, to help libraries utilise and align their objectives with EU programmes designed to implement SDGs in Europe.

EU policies for Sustainable development (UN Goal after Goal),  released on the EBLIDA website together with the Eurostat indicators designed to assess sustainability.

EBLIDA also set up a Working Group on European Libraries and Sustainability Assessment (ELSA) including eminent experts in qualitative assessment of libraries, the ambition being to show the impact of libraries on society through statistical indicators.

European libraries can rattle off figures and statistics concerning the annual number of library visitors and transactions – this is certainly useful to show the volume of their business. However, the best way to advocate for libraries and to convince politicians and policy-makers of how relevant they are for the socio-cultural and economic development of a country or a region, is to show the extent of the impact of libraries on sustainability, well-being, and GDP Indexes – at European, national and/or local level.

The content included in the Implementing Sustainable Development Goals in European Libraries is extracted from:
“EU and the Sustainable Development Goals” – Main EU initiatives:;

EU Sustainability Indicators, Eurostat Report. Sustainable Development in the European Union, 2019 Edition:, and Eurostat.

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