The aim of SDG 12 is to promote economic growth and increased quality of life, without compromising on the Earth’s natural resources. Let’s begin reading to find out how it can be achieved!
A brief history of production and consumption during the past century
The 20th century brought significant changes in the way we live, produce and consume. The global increase in production services and enhanced infrastructure resulted in rapid economic growth. While this meant reduced unemployment rates, increased disposable income among households and a growth in population, these trends have also resulted in serious negative environmental and social impacts. Governments, as well as businesses, used a large amount of the Earth’s natural resources (fossil fuels, minerals and water) under the assumption that these resources are unlimited. Since the 1950s the use of natural resources has grown significantly, from 10 billion tones in 1950 to 70 billion tones reported in 2010 (UNEP, 2011). It has been estimated that if this trend continues by 2050 we will be looking at 225-270 billion tones used in natural resources.
But what are the implications of using 225-270 billion tones of natural resources?
The answer is simple. These resources are not available.
It is therefore evident that the current patterns of consumption and production are environmentally unsustainable and socially inequitable.(UNEP, 2015)
So, how can we achieve Sustainable Consumption and Production?
According to the The Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability (2015), sustainability is a key driver when purchasing products and services. Moreover, findings revealed that 66 % of consumers are willing to pay more for those products and services that are offered by companies with a positive social and environmental impact.
Customers are ready to use their money for good, but what about companies?
Sustainable consumption goes in hand with sustainable production. One is not possible without the other. Since most products and services are offered by the private sector, it is vital that businesses engage in making sustainable production happen. As previously mentioned, globalisation brought many changes, enhanced infrastructure being one of the most significant ones. This allowed production to happen across different continents, enabling products to travel within many stakeholders in the value chain before reaching the customer. Consumers usually don’t have a full picture of companies’ complex supply chains and production methods, however, there is an increased demand for companies to be transparent about the social and environmental footprint of their products.
The path towards SCP requires measuring and managing impacts from products based on their life cycle.UNEP 2013
Great initiatives have been shown, mainly by medium and large companies, to improve on their waste management and recycling strategies, lower their greenhouse gas emissions or audit their supply chains. These are great initiatives on their own, however a product life cycle analysis can provide companies with a more holistic and transparent approach towards achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production. The below pyramid can serve as a step-by-step guide for achieving product sustainability through the life cycle analysis.
Within the product life cycle analysis, concepts such as The Circular Economy can be also implemented. The Circular Economy is a way of thinking that challenges the existing linear product manufacturing process and turns it into a circular process where waste is either not generated or is reused.
For example, rather than encouraging customers to dispose of and buy new products every few years, companies can create modular products that can be used for upgrading. Old components of these products can be sent back to the manufacturers for recycling and new components can be shipped to consumers who would end up owning the same upgradable product for a far longer period of time without it generating waste. Another example can be companies buying back products from consumers at the end of their life cycle and reusing or recycling them into newer products.
Fore more information on the concept of circular economy, check out the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the biggest think-tank at the forefront of the circular economy revolution. They provide us, business owners, with all necessary tools, inspiring studies and business cases to help us shift to circular business models.
Going back to transparency, a great way for companies to communicate their product information is through obtaining Eco Certificates and by using eco-labelling, such as the EU Ecolabel or Fairtrade, with the latter predominantly protecting human rights along the value chain while taking into consideration other environmental attributes. Many of them are industry specific and the full list of different certificate types can be found on the Ecolabel Index Website here.
What benefits can the product lifecycle approach bring to companies?
Reducing the material and energy intensity of current production does not only provide us with environmental and health benefits, but can unleash competitive advantages for companies. For example, with efficient use of resources ad sustainable business strategies comes (UNEP, 2012)…
- Resilient supply chains;
- New investment opportunities;
- Increased demand for sustainable goods and services;
- Sales growth and consumer loyalty;
- Training and job creation;
- Reduced dependency on natural resources;
- Mitigation against the negative financial risk from environmental impact
Let’s quickly recap on what actions companies can take to contribute positively towards SDG 12 – SCP
Companies can adopt a more circular approach to their business by reusing, reducing and recycling waste internally, for example, by reusing their wastewater for irrigation purposes.
Companies can also make their products “low-waste” to reduce their waste impacts after consumption, for example, through providing recyclable packaging or having a buy back scheme in place for products that have reached the end of their product lifecycle.
Finally, to ensure transparency, companies can trace and report on their products during the manufacturing and production stages to ensure all their products retain high environmental, social and economic values.
And finally, what’s the wider impact of SDG 12?
The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals are all linked. Taking action towards one goal will support the achievement of others. Taking actions towards SDG 12 will have a positive impact on all SDGs illustrated below.
Reducing waste and CO2 emissions have a positive impact on health and well being (Goal 3). Being efficient in using natural resources will reduce demands for water and energy inputs, helping to achieve goal 6 and 7. Resource efficiency can support the fight against climate change (Goal 13). Lastly, sustainable production will help avoid pollution and the negative environmental impacts caused by it, contributing to Goal 14 and 15*.
We hope you enjoyed reading about SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production and that now you have a better understanding on how companies can help achieve it. If you’re ready to take the first steps, get in touch with us, and we will help you kick-start your sustainability journey.