Sustainable Consumption and Production
In recent years, there has been a growing global concern about excessive reliance on natural resources and waste in our production and consumption processes. This concern is well-founded, as projections from the Global Material Resource Outlook indicate a significant increase in material resource consumption. According to these projections, material use is expected to more than double by 2060, soaring from 89 Gt in 2017 to a staggering 167 Gt across all major material categories. This surge is driven by factors like population growth, industrialization, and the pursuit of economic improvement.
Given this alarming trajectory, it has become undeniable that sustainability in our consumption and production practices should be a top priority. The United Nations has called upon citizens, businesses, and governments to make conscious efforts toward resource efficiency, waste reduction, and pollution control. The unsustainable ways we consume and produce goods have been identified as the fundamental reasons behind the triple planetary crises of climate change biodiversity loss, and pollution. These crises not only jeopardise the well-being of humanity but also hinder progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In our ongoing series of articles on the SDGs, which provide a global framework for addressing pressing global challenges, this blog article will focus on Sustainable Development Goal 12. SDG 12 aims to achieve sustainable consumption and production patterns worldwide. It acknowledges the urgent need to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and promotes resource efficiency, waste reduction, and sustainable practices throughout the production and consumption cycle. By addressing SDG 12, we can contribute to advancing sustainable development and building a more sustainable future for all. SDG 12 includes specific targets and indicators that help measure progress and provide a roadmap for achieving the goal. Targets include promoting sustainable management and efficient use of resources, reducing food waste, implementing sustainable practices in industries, and ensuring sustainable procurement practices. Indicators associated with these targets measure aspects such as material footprint, food loss and waste, and the implementation of sustainable practices in various sectors.
Why it Matters
The pursuit of economic growth has often been intertwined with undesirable consequences that are not sustainable in the long run. These consequences include the depletion and deterioration of natural resources, the exacerbation of climate change, and the infringement upon basic human rights . The generation of waste has resulted in the proliferation of overflowing landfills, which emit substantial amounts of methane and pose significant health risks.
Moreover, the world's oceans have become heavily burdened with severe plastic pollution, presenting a grave environmental problem. As per the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, it is projected that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the oceans could surpass the population of fish. The United Nations further reports that approximately 8 million tons of plastic find their way into the sea annually. To further entreat on why we should care about responsible consumption and production, the United Nations factsheet on SDG 11 implementation suggests the following global concerns:
Global Material Consumption and Waste
Global domestic material consumption increased by over 65% from 2000 to 2019, reaching 95.1 billion metric tons in 2019.
The steepest rise in consumption was observed in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.
Approximately 13.3% of the world's food was lost after harvesting and before reaching retail markets in 2020.
Around 17% of total food available to consumers, equivalent to 931 million metric tons, is wasted at household, food service, and retail levels.
Food waste that ends up in landfills contributes to 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2019, the global generation of e-waste was 7.3 kilograms per capita, but only 1.7 kilograms were managed in an environmentally sound manner.
Collection rates of e-waste are high in high-income countries but significantly lower in low- and middle-income countries, with only 1.6% in sub-Saharan Africa and 1.2% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Developing countries have significantly increased their capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources.
Renewable energy represents 36.1% of developing countries total electricity-generating capacity.
From 2015 to 2020, renewable energy in developing countries grew at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5%.
Least developed countries had a growth rate of 5.2%, while landlocked developing countries had a growth rate of 2.4%.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
In 2020, governments spent $375 billion on subsidies and other support for fossil fuels.
Education for Sustainable Development
Around 90% of countries have partially mainstreamed education for sustainable development and global citizenship education in national education laws, policies, curricula, teacher education, or student assessments in primary and secondary schools
Challenges and issues arise from societal, environmental, and economic aspects within SDG 12. Societal challenges involve unsustainable consumption habits, lack of awareness, and increasing waste generation. Environmental challenges include resource depletion, pollution, and the carbon footprint of production and consumption. Economic challenges relate to transitioning to sustainable business models and overcoming market barriers. The successful achievement of SDG 12 relies heavily on the implementation of policies that facilitate the transition to sustainable practices while simultaneously decoupling economic growth from resource use.
These policies are instrumental in creating an enabling environment that promotes sustainable patterns of production and consumption. They can include a range of measures such as regulations, incentives, and standards that encourage businesses, industries, and individuals to adopt more sustainable approaches.
By implementing policies that support sustainable practices, governments can drive innovation, foster the development and adoption of clean technologies, and promote resource efficiency. This helps to minimize waste generation, reduce environmental impacts, and optimize the use of resources throughout the value chain.
Furthermore, policies aimed at decoupling economic growth from resource use can lead to long-term sustainability by ensuring that economic development is achieved without depleting finite resources or causing irreparable damage to the environment. This requires shifting towards circular economy models, promoting the reuse, recycling, and responsible disposal of materials, and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources.
SDG 12 is of great importance in sustainable development. By promoting sustainable consumption and production, it leads to reduced environmental impact, improved resource efficiency, and enhanced social well-being. Achieving SDG 12 benefits individuals through healthier lifestyles, communities through green job creation and economic growth, and the planet through resource conservation and climate change mitigation.
Interlinkages of SDG 12
As previously stated, the 17 sustainable development goals are closely interconnected, with progress in one goal contributing to the achievement of others. Similarly, the goal being discussed is no exception. Goal 12 serves as a vital link between the goals of people's well-being, environmental sustainability, and economic prosperity. Taking action on Goal 12 not only addresses resource utilization and environmental concerns but also impacts other interconnected SDGs related to various aspects of human life. By focusing on Goal 12, progress can be made towards achieving SDGs such as life on land and water (Goals 14 and 15), ensuring clean water availability (Goal 6), promoting sustainable energy usage (Goal 7), and mitigating climate change impacts (Goal 13). The importance of Goal 12 amplifies as progress is made on Goal 8, as the current patterns of production and consumption relative to income are unsustainable in the long run.
Call to Action
Every individual has a role to play in supporting SDG 12. You can start by practicing responsible consumption, reducing waste, and supporting sustainable businesses. Spread awareness about the importance of sustainable consumption and production among your friends, family, and community. At the business level, companies are recommended to take action such as adopting a circular business model, Promoting negligible use of resources in their portfolio, and conducting sustainability reporting as a way of tracking their production and consumption across all their value chains. Global Partnerships remain an important pillar in promoting any of the SDGs, International cooperation, partnerships, and funding mechanisms are crucial in supporting the achievement of SDG 12. Organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation facilitate collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society. Initiatives like the One Planet Network and the Sustainable Lifestyles and Education (SLE) Programme drive collective action and knowledge sharing on sustainable consumption and production.
The bigger question for all remains, how can we help? Together, we can create a more sustainable future for ourselves and generations to come.
 OECD (2019),
Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060: Economic Drivers and Environmental Consequences, OECD Publishing, Paris, Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060