The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a roadmap for addressing global challenges such as poverty, hunger, inequality, and environmental degradation by 2030. Achieving these goals requires collaborative efforts from governments, private sectors, civil society, and individuals. Family businesses, with their unique values and long-term perspective, play a crucial role in driving sustainability and contributing to the SDGs. Two exemplary case studies highlight the transformative impact of family businesses committed to sustainability.

Case study 1: Outland Denim[i]

Founded by James Bartle in response to the human trafficking crisis, Outland Denim provides decent work and economic growth for vulnerable women in Cambodia. By offering training opportunities and fair wages, Outland Denim not only empowers women but also promotes gender equality (SDG 5) and decent work (SDG 8).

Determining appropriate compensation levels for Outland Denim’s employees in Cambodia was a challenge in the early years. In the development phase and out of compassion, Outland Denim initially overpaid its Cambodian employees and a local anti-trafficking organisation advised that this kind of model can cause inflation in local markets. On this advice, James revised his compensation levels to be a living wage at minimum, but with the opportunity for employees to develop skills and increase incomes accordingly over time. Additionally, the family business developed a better production process for Outland Denim jeans. Outland Denim uses only organic cotton, which according to Textile Exchange, uses 91 per cent less blue water (fresh surface or groundwater sources) than conventional cotton. During the COVID-19 pandemic the production of Outland Denim’s garments was stopped. However, the company raised over 1.32 million Australian dollars through crowdfunding to expand its workforce in Australia and Cambodia. This allowed the business to keep paying employees and to expand their employee base.

Through sustainable practices such as these, Outland Denim demonstrates the economic and social benefits of sustainability.

Case study 2: Badger[ii]

A family business based in the USA, Badger aligns with SDG 13 (Climate Action) by prioritising sustainability in its operations. Bill Whyte, the founder, needed a product to soothe his fingers whilst working as a carpenter in extreme conditions, so he mixed beeswax and olive oil and from that, Badger was born. Badger now produces over 100 products, employs 90 people, and sells in over 20 countries.

The Whyte family are staunch advocates for regenerative and sustainable agriculture. In the development, design, and marketing of their products, they emphasize the protection of natural resources and strive to have a positive impact on the environment. The Whyte family signed an open letter to the international community in 2017, pledging their commitment to upholding the Paris Agreement. They aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% by 2025, contributing to global climate action efforts. In upholding the Paris Agreement, they have developed a sustainable manufacturing facility, which is one of the largest post and beam buildings on the East Coast and incorporates features such as skylights, windows, and plants to promote the health and well-being of employees. Badger has switched to 100% renewable power and purchases Renewable Energy Credits. The family business also ensures that commodities within its supply chain, such as palm, soy, and paper/pulp, come from deforestation-free sources. Badger reduces water usage through the production of waterless products, which are concentrated and require less energy for packaging and shipping. When water is required, they use natural solvents that are not harmful to the environment. Waste generated during production and employee lunches are composted, contributing to waste reduction and sustainable practices.

By signing the Paris Agreement and integrating sustainability into its core values, Badger sets a high standard for environmental stewardship and corporate responsibility.


By implementing sustainable practices, family businesses can mitigate risks associated with environmental degradation, resource scarcity, and climate change, safeguarding their operations for the future. Additionally, adopting sustainability measures enhances the reputation and trustworthiness of family businesses, appealing to environmentally-conscious consumers and investors.

There are many ways family businesses can incorporate sustainability.

  1. Integration of SDGs into Business Strategy: Family businesses should incorporate the SDGs into their strategic planning processes, identifying key goals relevant to their operations and stakeholders.
  2. Board-level engagement: Establish sustainability as a recurring agenda item in board meetings to ensure top-level commitment and oversight.
  3. Stakeholder communication: Communicate sustainability initiatives transparently to internal and external stakeholders through corporate websites, marketing materials, and internal newsletters.
  4. Investment in training and education: Provide training and education programs for employees to foster a culture of sustainability and empower them to contribute to SDG-aligned initiatives.
  5. Partnerships and collaboration: Seek partnerships with government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders to amplify the impact of sustainability efforts and leverage resources for collective action.

Family businesses have a unique opportunity to drive positive change and contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. By embracing sustainability as a core value and integrating it into their operations, family businesses can create lasting impact for future generations. Through strategic alignment, stakeholder engagement, and continuous improvement, family businesses can harness the power of purpose to build a more sustainable and prosperous world.


Professor Naomi Birdthistle is a member of the Griffith Asia Institute.

[i] Barrett, M & Moores, K 2022, ‘Australia: Family Business and Sustainability: The Case of Outland Denim, in Birdthistle & Hales R (eds.) Attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of Decent Work and Economic Growth, Emerald Publishing, pp.53-68.

[ii] Birdthistle, N, 2022, ‘United States of America – Badger Tacking Climate Change’,  in Birdthistle & Hales R (eds.) Attaining the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal of Climate Change, Emerald Publishing, pp.47-55.