Utrecht, Netherlands

2018-09-18 00:00:00

Localizing the SDGs through Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships


  • Population size: 347,574

  • Population growth rate (%): 19.00

  • Surface area (sq.km): 99.00

  • Population density (people/sq.km): 3644.00

  • GDP per capita (USD): 43,747.00



When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were initiated, Utrecht City Council confirmed its commitment by declaring Utrecht a “Global Goals City.” Facing growing urbanisation and sustainability challenges, Utrecht municipality views the SDGs as an opportunity to guide its mission to achieve healthy urban living for everyone. The approach to localize the SDGs focuses on two areas: Activating and cooperating with local stakeholders, and connecting local initiatives and expertise with international developments.

To boost local SDG action and reach a broader audience, Utrecht municipality cooperates with the local foundation Utrecht4GlobalGoals. To stimulate responsible business conduct and investments to accelerate SDG achievements, the municipality partners with local businesses. Together, these public and private partners aim to reach the 350.000 citizens of Utrecht and inspire and facilitate them to take local and global action for the SDGs. Furthermore, Utrecht municipality is developing local SDG indicators to measure and track its own SDG performance.

While the motto of “think global, act local” clearly applies to Utrecht’s SDG approach, it also makes sense to “think local, act global.” Utrecht sees its role, and that of other cities, as building the bridges that enable two-way traffic between local and international action on the SDGs. Only by supporting other cities and regions in their efforts to achieve the goals, especially those with fewer resources, will the SDGs be achievable on a global scale.



Utrecht City Council confirmed its commitment to the new set of 17 Global Goals in 2016, by declaring Utrecht a “Global Goals City.” Rather than creating a top-down policy, the aim was to provide a framework of action, whereby the municipality facilitates local and global public-private partnerships for the SDGs, and cooperates with local businesses, knowledge institutions, and citizens. Simultaneously, the municipality takes its responsibility by measuring the impact of local policies on the SDGs. The City Council approved a work plan with concrete actions and results that will be evaluated and renewed every three years.



In the City of Utrecht, growing urbanisation and traffic flows will make it a challenge – now and in the future, and for all its 350,000 inhabitants – to keep the city as healthy as possible. It is the ambition of Utrecht municipality to develop a model for "healthy urban living for everyone"; a city in which health is central in everything we do, where healthy citizens live in a healthy environment and work in a healthy economy. This requires an integrated, interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach. That is why Utrecht has adopted the SDGs as a framework to orient the city’s development. The global outlook of the SDGs allows the municipality to connect its local development strategy to international sustainability standards.

Within the Utrecht Global Goals City framework (applicable until 2030), the municipality localizes the SDGs, together with citizens, the private sector and knowledge institutions, by: 

  • Facilitating a local campaign to raise awareness and stimulate local SDG action; 

  • Creating and supporting coalitions with local stakeholders to address international sustainable development challenges.

The first actions under this framework are summarized in a three-year plan (2017-2019):

  • Organise and support a local awareness-raising campaign together with Utrecht4GlobalGoals;

  • Stimulate businesses to co-develop local and international SDG strategies and activities;

  • Facilitate a local network to exchange knowledge and to communicate about sustainability initiatives in relation to the SDGs

  • Build a public-private partnership to make an international contribution to SDG 11 in Uganda

  • Develop local SDG indicators to align municipal policies with the SDGs

The Millennium Goals campaign had been fuelled by strong civil society involvement and the municipality was keen to build on this legacy when transitioning to the SDGs. Existing civil society organisations joined forced to create Utrecht4GlobalGoals, as the new foundation leading local cooperation on the SDGs. Besides this, Utrecht municipality and Utrecht4GlobalGoals are looking for opportunities to partner with local businesses connecting their products and services with the SDGs and complementing their expertise to form public-private partnerships contributing to the SDGs globally.

Utrecht4GlobalGoals annually receives 80.000 euro from the municipality. This is included in the annual 283,000-euro municipal budget for the SDG approach, with 1.8 FTE committed. On top of private investments, Utrecht municipality and its consortium received a 300,000-euro grant from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, for the SDG 11 project in Uganda. The municipality is currently exploring European funding possibilities to boost the local SDG indicators research.



For the past years, Utrecht municipality and Utrecht4GlobalGoals continuously adapted the strategy to localise the SDGs. The underlying policy document ‘Utrecht Global Goals City’ deliberately allows experiments. This proved vital to translate a global framework to a particular local context. It takes time and exercise to bridge existing sustainability initiatives and siloed municipal departments under the SDG umbrella.   

The lessons learned have cumulated into new and unexpected local stakeholders joining the Utrecht4GlobalGoals movement. For example, a multi-stakeholder coalition of Utrecht municipality, local businesses and Utrecht4GlobalGoals are bringing the international Climate Planet to Utrecht. Within this 20 meter high globe, a 360 degree film shows the urgency of climate change and provides inspiration for a sustainable future. The fact that local stakeholders, supported by the municipality, take the lead and share the financial risk, creates high involvement and responsibility to guarantee the impact of the event. The total cost of the event is over 750,000 euros and the aim is to attract 50,000 visitors.

Within the municipality, the aim is to align local policies and strategies with the SDGs. By connecting the SDG targets to existing local indicators and municipal data, transversal policymaking is encouraged and the municipality becomes aware of its global footprint. 

Externally, new forms of cooperation between local government, knowledge institutions, civil society and the private sector accelerate SDG actions that contribute to local and global sustainable development. Encouraged by and in partnership with the municipality, local businesses and entrepreneurs use local expertise and skills to work on sustainable development elsewhere in the world, thereby simultaneously stimulating CSR and creating new, sustainable, business opportunities.

Bridging the interests of local stakeholders and securing financial commitment to establish effective partnerships proved challenging. This is illustrated by the difficulty to find the first stakeholder willing to invest in the Climate Planet. Eventually, a successful crowd funding campaign, initiated by Utrecht4GlobalGoals, took away the hesitation and convinced public and private stakeholders to commit to the financial risk together.  

Second, the siloed structure of Utrecht municipality does not allow for immediate acceptance and integration of the transversal SDGs.  Section F describes how this obstacle is being overcome with help of a local SDG data dashboard.



In 2017, a citizen’s survey showed that 28% of Utrecht citizens already know the SDGs. The goal is to reach 30% in 2019, leading up to 75% in 2030. It is expected that increased citizen's awareness will compel local businesses to join in SDG actions because they want to speak to their customers values. 

Localizing the SDGs is expected to boost transversal policy-making to better tackle sustainability issues. An already successful example is the new, upcoming socially responsible purchasing policy. Using the SDGs as point of departure, it applies the people, planet, prosperity pillars of sustainable development to guide the government’s procurement and purchasing practices. Thereby combining the previously separated social and environmental dimensions of procurement policy.

To map and track the municipality’s own SDG performance, the departments of international affairs and research started developing local SDG indicators. To show the connection between the SDGs and local policies, existing local indicators were linked to the SDG targets and UN indicator framework. By rearranging existing data, about i.e. public health and energy, according to the SDGs, municipal departments are stimulated to recognise the interconnections and consider the broader impact of local policies.

A data dashboard was developed to present local SDG data in a user-friendly way. This tool can combine multiple data sources, visualise it, and allows users to customise it to meet their specific needs. These characteristics make it suitable to measure the SDGs, because it encourages the user to discover connections between siloed policy data, which stimulates transversal policy-making.  

The goal is to develop a participatory data tool. Local stakeholders can complement the quantitative municipal data with qualitative case studies of local SDG projects. These are already being collected by Utrecht4GlobalGoals in an online platform. Besides showcasing and awarding good practices with SDG awards, it increases visibility of the SDGs and inspires others to contribute as well.

By putting the mission ‘healthy urban living for everyone’ at the heart of localizing the SDGs, Utrecht is increasingly being recognised, as a city that respects the people, planet, prosperity pillars of sustainable development. Utrecht’s SDG approach was mentioned as a best practice in the Dutch voluntary national review on the SDGs to the UN, and in the UCLG report to the UN High Level Political Forum in 2018, where Mayor Jan van Zanen presented examples.



Utrecht and other cities are uniquely positioned to be leaders, catalysts, educators, facilitators, implementers, and patrons of the SDGs because they are the common link connecting so many of the other key players in this story. They are responsible for the health and opportunities of their residents and businesses, and at the same time, they engage with national and international entities to shape policies, fund projects and programmes, and create norms, all of which can be leveraged to support the SDGs. Utrecht takes this responsibility seriously and invites any entities or individuals working to advance the SDGs to be in touch about collaborating.

All the products and services it has developed or co-created, such as the local SDG data dashboard and the Utrecht4GlobalGoals communication campaign, can be copied or applied by other cities, anywhere in the world. Only by supporting other cities and regions in their efforts to achieve the goals, especially those with fewer resources, will the SDGs be achievable on a global scale. Utrecht is already sharing its experiences and cooperating with a coalition of Dutch SDG municipalities, and an informal network of European SDG cities.



  • Goal 1: End poverty in all of its forms

  • Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages

  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all

  • Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

  • Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

  • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

  • Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

  • Target 1: Access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums

  • Target 2: Access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all

  • Target 3: Participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management

  • Target 4: Safeguard cultural and natural heritage

  • Target 5: Reduce deaths and number of people affected by disasters with particular focus on the poor and people in vulnerable situations

  • Target 6: Improve air quality and manage municipal and other wastes

  • Target 7: Universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces, in particular of women, children older persons and persons with disabilities

  • Target 8: Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas

  • Target 9: Improving resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters and implement holistic disaster risk management

  • Target 10: Support least developed countries in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials

  • Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

  • Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

  • Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

  • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for all

  • Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development