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SDGs: The World’s Most Complex Rubik’s Cube

30 November 2022

By Shannon Hobbs

We are quickly approaching the half-way mark between adopting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a hard deadline to see results in achieving the SDGs. The SDGs were adopted by 193 UN Member states and achieving significant results by 2030 is dependent upon the principles on which they were built: universality and indivisibility. The former emphasises that world-wide mobilisation from institutions at all levels is crucial, whilst the latter highlights that they cannot be separated and substantial effort must be put into achieving them all.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals


When we look at the 17 SDGs in their single colourful squares we can clearly see what needs to be targeted. However, this mainstream image falls short in showing a key part of indivisibility: interdependencies. That is the knock-on effects one SDG will inevitably have on one or more others. The importance of interdependency gets lost when looking at the 17 SDGs placed in their neat adjacent squares. Rather than seeing the SDGs in this way, it is advantageous to envision them as a Rubik’s cube. A colourful combination puzzle known for its extreme difficulty to complete. And indeed, the SDGs are the world’s most complex Rubik’s cube we have ever had to solve.

The world’s most complex Rubik’s cube

Achieving sustainable development is a wicked problem with countless solutions, but also countless challenges. The Rubik’s cube also has countless combinations, an unfathomable 43 quintillion to be precise. Each twist and turn of the Rubik’s cube will immediately change the orientation of some colourful squares, whilst influencing the future of others. Sometimes we can see the impact of our actions on the colourful squares, but sometimes there can be hidden impacts on the other side, leading us to backtrack a few steps.

A recent study by the European Commission illustrates the different impacts found within the SDG Rubik’s cube, depending on the combination. Their study shows that efforts to achieve Zero Hunger (SDG 2) are highly synergistic with achieving Good Health & Wellbeing (SDG 3), because diet has a core influence on malnutrition, heart disease, and strokes. On the other hand, striving for Zero Hunger (SDG 2) can adversely affect Life on Land (SDG 15) if natural habitats are destroyed in the name of food production. If properly managed, however, the SDGs predominantly complement each other, whereby each right move sets the others up for success, bringing us closer to completing the world’s most complex Rubik’s cube.

The Rubik’s cube in practice

The Rubik’s cube metaphor that emphasises the interdependencies between the SDGs can be seen in practice through the work of Green Angel Syndicate. Green Angel Syndicate is dedicated to achieving Climate Action (SDG 13), and does this by investing exclusively in start-ups that are fighting climate change. The newest Green Angel Syndicate Portfolio Company Impact Report has revealed that Green Angel Syndicate’s investments have saved 91,000 tonnes of CO2e cumulatively to date, thanks to the activities of its portfolio companies. The report also reveals that the portfolio companies, who are all mitigating climate change, also contribute to a noteworthy 10 out of 17 SDGs.

Matching Green Angel Syndicate portfolio companies with UN Sustainable Development Goals


The table above illustrates the impressive spread of SDGs that Green Angel Syndicate’s portfolio companies are contributing to beyond reducing emissions and mitigating climate change. With the majority of the portfolio companies contributing to more than 1 SDG, and 5 contributing 3 SDGs, the inescapable importance of interdependency becomes apparent. 

The interdependencies inherent within the SDG Rubik’s cube can be seen in practice through Scottish Bee Company’s activities. Scottish Bee Company places conservation and regeneration at the forefront of producing and selling their organic honey products. Their activities to reduce emissions have positively impacted 3 other colourful squares on the Rubik’s cube: Zero Hunger (SDG 2), Responsible Consumption & Production (SDG 12), and Life on Land (SDG 15). They strategically place their hives on wild heather moores to pollinate wildflowers, which conserves the natural habitat (SDG 15) through regenerative agriculture practices (SDG 2). Their business model is therefore dedicated to the sustainable management and use of natural resources (SDG 12). The moves that Scottish Bee Company takes to achieve a sustainable future provides one example of how investing in, and supporting the growth of businesses that are fighting climate change, brings us closer to solving the Rubik’s cube. 

Further details on how Green Angel Syndicates portfolio companies are achieving the SDGs can be found in the Impact Report. 

More than just a game

Understanding the SDGs as a Rubik’s cube is helpful to gauge their interdependencies and the importance of indivisibility. However, one fundamental difference between the popular 80s game and the SDGs must not be forgotten: this is not a game. The SDGs are the building blocks on which we want to build a safe and prosperous future. The Rubik’s cube is far from solved, but Green Angel Syndicate and its portfolio companies have joined the challenge of solving the world’s most complex, and indeed pressing puzzle.