What is Goal 12? Responsible consumption and production

What is Goal 12? Responsible consumption and production

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in 2015, with 193 countries agreeing to achieve 17 human welfare-related goals by 2030. Of these goals, SDG 12 is responsible consumption and production, which aims to break the link between economic development and environmental degradation. The article will explain in detail what SDG 12 is, including its detailed targets and which business models can be adopted by companies to support SDG 12 in a bid to build a sustainable future.

What is Sustainable Development Goal 12?

What is Sustainable Development Goal 12?

SDG 12 is the 12th item of the SDGs, responsible consumption and production, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Consumption and production are the two major driving forces of economic development. In the 20th century, economic progress mainly relied on the use of natural resources and the development of the natural environment, including mass mining, digging oil wells, converting forests to fields, pumping groundwater, and so on. The GDP of each country was increased at the cost of environmental damage. Hence, SDG 12 intends to decouple economic growth from natural resource consumption through 11 specific targets.

According to United Nations’ statistics, the global per capita material footprint has increased from 8.8 metric tons in 2000 to 12.2 metric tons in 2017, meaning that the amount of resources consumed by each person has increased. Although it has improved the public’s living standards (especially for citizens of low-income, and low-to-medium-income, and medium-to-high-income countries, which have demonstrated a growth rate of over 1.4 times). However, it has also accelerated the rate of depletion of the Earth’s resources.

As the global population continues to increase, the global material footprint of domestic material consumption (DMC) has risen from 76.3 billion tons in 2010 to 95.1 billion tons in 2019. Material intensity (DMC per unit of GDP) is a key indicator of measuring whether economic growth is decoupled from natural resource consumption. The average global material intensity has remained the same in the last nine years, meaning that there is still a long way to go to achieve SDG 12. Furthermore, it also requires the concerted effort of various countries, cities, producers, and consumers.

What is sustainable consumption and production?

What is sustainable consumption and production

In the 1994 Oslo Symposium, sustainable consumption and production (SCP) was defined as “The use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations.” SCP is the essence of SDG 12, which involves establishing a supply chain that consumes fewer resources, generates more value for goods and services, and at the same time introduces the concept of sustainability into the raw materials and production processes to prevent resource depletion as well as pollution and waste produced during manufacturing.

Besides environmental factors, SCP also pays attention to the social factor of wealth inequality. The United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) policy on SCP mainly revolves around three goals for systemic change:

  • Decouple environmental degradation and economic growth

Reduce use and pollution emissions throughout the life cycle and apply more efficient and sustainable materials to manufacturing so that economic growth no longer depends on non-renewable raw materials. In doing so, people’s quality of life in different countries can be enhanced while protecting the environment.

  • Apply life cycle thinking

Reinforce the sustainable management of resources, increase the efficiency of raw material excavation, product manufacturing, distribution, use, disposal, and recycling, as well as minimizing energy consumption in every stage. The aim is to generate the maximum value with the least amount of resources by redesigning the product life cycle.

  • Seize opportunities in developing countries

Highly developed countries such as the US and Western European countries have polluted the environment by burning coal and discharging wastewater while engaging in vigorous economic development. Currently, alternative technologies such as green energy and pollution prevention measures are available, allowing developing countries to observe the development process of developed countries and skip the pursuit of economic development through polluting the environment. By implementing new low-pollution technologies, they can lower the potential external environmental costs while transitioning to developed countries.

What are the 17 SDGs?

There are 17 SDGs, and one measure can achieve multiple goals simultaneously. For instance, a carbon credit creation project accredited by the Gold Standard—planting biodiverse forests in Panama—involves the cultivation of teak and indigenous vegetation to reforest degraded ranches and provide employment opportunities for residents, sustainable timber, and cocoa, as well as capturing carbon and offering a natural habitat for new forests. The project concurrently achieves four goals, SDG 8, 12, 13, and 15. The core actions of the 17 goals are introduced below.

What are the 17 SDGs?

No poverty

More than half of the population in the world lives in poverty. Every year, millions of people perish from a lack of clean water, sufficient food, and decent medical care resources. SDG 1 intends to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than US$1.25 a day. The goals also aims to provide poor and vulnerable people with the right to enjoy various services and resources, as well as the ability to respond to and recover from disasters.

Zero hunger

Food produced worldwide should be enough to feed everyone, but millions of people are undernourished due to resource inequality. Hence, SDG 2 hopes to utilize modern technologies and a fair distribution system to foster sustainable agricultural development and eradicate hunger.

Good health and well-being

Health is the fundamental and most important topic for people. Through technological advances, it is possible to overcome all illnesses, but high-risk groups such as pregnant women and children are still exposed to preventable risks. SDG 3 covers a very wide range of topics including the mortality rates of various ethnic groups, prevention of infectious diseases, drug abuse, use of toxic substances, medical technology development, health insurance system, and more.

Quality education

Education is the impetus behind social class mobility and human progress. Everyone should be able to change their destiny through education. SDG 4 hopes to provide free and equal basic education, establish a sustainable and high-quality education system, and improve people’s literacy and mathematics skills, as well as increasing the number of people with employable skills.

Gender equality

Gender prejudice leads to mutual hatred among ethnic groups and the waste of human potential. SDG 5 hopes to end all forms of discrimination, violence, exploitation, and forced marriages against women, allowing them to enjoy equal rights in the division of housework, participation in decision-making, reproductive health, and economic resources.

Clean water and sanitation

One-third of people live without sanitation, leading to unnecessary diseases and deaths. SDG 6 strives to offer safe drinking water and sanitation through effective water resource management.

Affordable and clean energy

Globally, 750 million people live without electricity, thus they are unable to utilize modern tools. As the majority of energy is derived from fossil fuel power generation, SDG 7 aims to expedite the development of energy technologies and make modern sustainable energy available to all.

Decent work and economic growth

Economic growth is a positive strength that fosters people’s quality of life, but people should avoid damaging the environment or ignoring labor rights during the process. SDG 8 hopes to facilitate sustainable economic growth by developing sustainable high-value-added, labor-intensive, and tourism industries while at the same time protecting labor rights and implementing equal employment.

Industry, innovation, and infrastructure

Infrastructure brings about a quality of life and employment. SDG 9 thus aims to realize sustainable, inclusive industrialization and infrastructure by elevating technological skills and upgrading all industries.

Reduced inequalities

According to the 2022 World Inequality Report, the richest 10% of the world’s population owns 76% of the wealth, while the poorest 50% of the population only owns 2%. This phenomenon will lead to a severe sense of relative deprivation. SDG 10 strives to foster income equality by creating an inclusive society for people of all ages, genders, religions, ethnicities, or social status.

Sustainable cities and communities

The global population is growing at a rate of 1%, and it has already reached eight billion. To accommodate everyone, SDG 11 hopes everyone can benefit from affordable housing and transportation systems, as well as reduce damage to the world’s culture and environment.

Responsible consumption and production

SDG 12 aims to create a circular economy model and a sustainable supply chain.

Climate action

Climate change is people’s greatest threat in the last decade. SDG 13 hopes to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, incorporate climate change measures into national policies, and bolster the ability to respond to climate disasters.

Life below water

The ocean covers 70% of Earth’s surface and acts as an important source of water, food, and energy for people. SDG 14 strives to reduce marine pollution, increase economic benefits through sustainable fishing, and protect and restore the marine ecosystem.

Life on land

Land is the cornerstone of human life. SDG 15 hopes to protect diverse ecosystems such as forests, swamps, and grasslands, and establish measures to prevent introduced species and poaching in a bid to protect biodiversity.

Peace, justice, and strong institutions

SDG 16 strives to reduce violence and corruption through the formulation of systems, as well as reinforcing equality and information transparency.

Partnerships for the goals

Achieving the SDGs requires everyone’s joint efforts. SDG 17 hopes to provide underprivileged groups and countries with funding and technology through the allocation of resources to strengthen global economic stability and sustainable partnerships.

For more details on the 17 SDGs goals, please read this article: THE 17 GOALS: WHAT ARE THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS?

Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production

COVID-19 offered an opportunity to stipulate sustainable recovery projects, thereby achieving SDG 12, responsible consumption and production, through measures including renewable energy and zero waste. The following will explain in detail how SDG 12 can be achieved through its 11 targets.

The eleven targets of Goal 12

The eleven targets of Goal 12

1. Implement the 10-year sustainable consumption and production framework

All countries will take action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries to progressively formulate exclusive plans.

2. Sustainable management and use of natural resources

Promote the sustainable management of natural resources through approaches such as sustainable forest utilization and sustainable fishing. At the same time, resource efficiency is increased to create more high-value-added products and services, as well as lowering material footprint and material depletion.

3. Halve global per capita food waste

Increase food transportation efficiency, increase the use of ugly fruits and vegetables, and promote the concept of zero waste to prevent food waste at each stage of production, transportation, retail, and consumption.

4. Responsible management of chemicals and waste

By examining chemicals and waste in various stages of the product life cycle, the emissions into the air, water, and soil can be reduced significantly via environmental management. The per capita generation of hazardous wastes will also be decreased, while the ratio of hazardous waste that is properly disposed of will be increased, thereby lowering adverse impacts on people’s health and the environment.

5. Substantially reduce waste generation

Reduce waste generation and increase material recovery rate through the zero waste principles of refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost.

6. Encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and ESG reports

Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle. Numerous ESG ratings and investment institutions all support this SDG target.

7. Promote sustainable public procurement practices

One of the main goals of sustainable public procurement is to purchase sustainable products, which can encourage corporations to promote sustainable operations such as environmental protection, employee rights, and information transparency, as well as maintaining the fairness and sustainability of public procurement.

8. Promote universal understanding of sustainable lifestyles

Continue to promote sustainable development education, incorporate the concept of sustainability into education policies, and vigorously disseminate relevant information to embed the concept of sustainable living into the hearts of the public, in turn unleashing the power of sustainable consumption.

A. Support developing countries’ scientific and technological capacity for sustainable consumption and production

The priority of developing countries is to elevate the basic welfare of their citizens, thus resources must be provided to these developing countries to support them to realize sustainable consumption and production while fostering economic development.

B. Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable tourism

Tourism is a double-edged sword for national industrial development. With adequate development, it can create jobs and promote local culture and products. On the contrary, it may result in damage to natural and cultural landscapes and pollution. Consequently, it is imperative to monitor its sustainability on an ongoing basis.

C. Remove market distortions that encourage wasteful consumption

Depending on the situation in various countries, cancel subsidies for industries with inefficient resource utilization, such as fossil fuel subsidies, and minimize the impact on disadvantaged groups and local communities.

Five things businesses can do for SDG 12

Five things businesses can do for SDG 12

Use sustainable raw materials

Increase the ratio of products made of sustainable raw materials. If wood is one of the raw materials, consider using forests or suppliers certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) to ensure a sustainable forestry management model.

To learn more about the types of sustainable raw materials, please read this article: TWENTY SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS YOU NEED TO KNOW IN LIFE.

Introduce green processes

Choose low-pollution materials for manufacturing, or use pollution prevention equipment to create green processes. Also, monitor the amount of waste generated and whether it is harmful. Introduce eco-friendly packaging materials such as paper or compostable materials to replace plastics. Alternatively, use biomass materials instead of chemical synthetic materials.

Design recyclable and compostable products

Design products with elements that can be recycled or composted after use to make sure that no unprocessable waste is generated. For example, replace unrecyclable composite materials with recyclable, single-material plastics, or substitute undegradable plastics with compostable materials.

Implement corporate ESG

Besides realizing the concept of sustainability in the production process and product and services, corporations should also practice ESG to ensure sustainable operations, thereby exerting the influence of sustainability on the environment, employees, communities, and stakeholders.

For more information on how companies implement ESG, please read this article: WHAT IS ESG – OVERVIEW OF ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE.

Participate in sustainability lectures, forums, or activities

Corporations should be experts in their respective fields. They can regularly share sustainability-related information about their industries through lectures, forums, or activities to give the public a better understanding of sustainable lifestyles so they can practice sustainability in everyday life.

Three things we can do for SDG 12

Choose products that align with the zero waste philosophy

Many products are designed with zero waste in mind. Examples include modularization, increased durability, multi-year service warranty, complete recyclability, and compostability. Choose these products as much as possible to ensure the sustainability of raw materials and the maximization of product lifespans. Additionally, make sure the products can be disposed of properly at the end of their life cycles by turning them into new products or completely returning them to the soil.

For more ways to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle, please read this article: 2023 ZERO WASTE LIFESTYLE: 20 WAYS TO LIVE A ZERO WASTE LIFE.

Reduce food waste

Before purchasing food, make sure it can be finished before the expiration date. Furthermore, support ugly vegetables and fruits or unsold food to the best of your ability. For instance, dine at The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP) restaurant, which recycles unsold food from supermarkets or other restaurants, with the chef preparing various delicacies using ingredients available on the day. Currently, over 100 TRJFP restaurants worldwide have reduced food waste by more than more than 200 tons.

Recycle personal waste properly

We inevitably generate waste in life. For example, waste such as vegetable stalks and fruit peels from cooking, broken glass, or empty plastic milk bottles can be disposed of through composting or recycling. Sort these resources at the source to prevent them from entering the general waste disposal process and going to waste in landfills or incinerators.

Why do The Sustainable Development Goals Matter?

Production and consumption are the two most powerful and direct forces driving the world. We take on the role of producer and consumer at the same time; to prevent diverse problems such as environmental pollution, resource depletion, and climate change, SDG 12 RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION is an important goal that requires the understanding and concerted effort of everyone in a bid to create a sustainable future.