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International Spillover Effects

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A new narrative for an often overlooked dilemma


Northern-hemisphere countries are often proud of their good sustainability-ratings – overlooking that much of their unsustainable footprint is simply allocated to other countries’ balance sheets. What seems like some statistical technicality distorts the proper interpretation of SDG-ratings in practice – an easier to understand narrative was needed to help dismantle the effect.

International Spillover Effects: Why they must not be overlooked


GIZ commissioned us to help develop an easy to understand narrative to explain the meaning and consequences of “international spillover effects” to policy makers worldwide. 


In an interconnected world, actions of one country can have positive or negative impacts on other countries concerning their ability to reach the SDGs. These impacts are called "international spillover effects".  Currently however, SDGs rankings do not include international spillover effects when assessing a country’s SDG performance. 


Consequently, SDG monitoring generally looks good for countries in the Global North, as they are systematically passing many difficult problems on to developing countries. This aspect is not a small statistical detail, but a huge blind spot – it can literally turn the SDG ranking upside down.

Making a data-driven topic tangible for a wider target group


The concept of international spillover effects is unknown to many, even within the sustainability community, among politicians and international development workers.  To make communication around the topic easier and catchier, we developed an easy-to-understand narrative in the form of an elevator pitch which conveys  the topic so concisely, it can be explained in no more than a 90 second lift ride.


In addition, we developed examples that are close to the target group’s reality – making them easy to remember through both identification and visuals.

Take a T-shirt which is produced in Bangladesh and worn in Germany as an example: The garment is consumed in Germany without tainting the national SDG ranking, while all the negative environmental and social impacts associated with production remain on Bangladesh’s balance sheet.

Another example are rare earth metals extracted in Congo or Zambia and further processed in the electronic devices that accompany our everyday lives, such as mobile phones or computers. Though the whole world relies on these products, the environmental and social damage associated with the extraction of the necessary raw materials is only attributed to the countries of origin.

Graphics can help an audience to grasp complex correlations within seconds:

Spillover analysis at a glance: Spillover analysis analyzes flows of materials and money, geophysical interactions, and other factors between countries– while also considering qualitative factors such as labor standards – to come up with a spillover analysis that gives you a much clearer picture of reality when using it to complement conventional SDG ratings.

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