U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 12:
Responsible Consumption and Production
The U.N. SDGs are driving governments, individuals, universities and businesses to adjust their practices to achieve benchmarks and secure a sustainable future by 2030. SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, is one of the most applicable and easiest ways for companies to incorporate the UN SDGs into their business practices. Consumption and production is relevant to virtually every company from product development, supply chain management, end of life responsibility and even office practices.
What is SDG 12?
Consumption and production of goods and services worldwide rely on the natural environment and plentiful resources. This has allowed economies and societies to flourish; however, it is a delicate balance of growth and environmental degradation. According to the U.N., if the global population reaches the projected 9.6 billion by 2050, three Earth’s worth of resources could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain our current way of life. This may seem shocking, but it is possible to prevent this eventuality through responsible consumption and production.
Responsible consumption and production hinges upon the idea of being more efficient with less. It also is about severing the failures of economic growth that cause environmental degradation and instead establishing resource efficiency and sustainability as normative practice for both economic affairs and everyday lifestyles.
The Basic Tenets of SDG 12:
- Severing the current relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation: Increasing world-life gains from economic growth by improving resource efficiency and reducing resource consumption, degradation, and pollution. Cultivating long-lasting, durable goods with less impact.
- Life cycle thinking: Considering the management of resources and products from ‘cradle to grave’. Taking accountability for each phase of the life cycle including resource extraction, production, distribution, use, waste disposal and reuse.
- Leapfrogging: Creating opportunities for developing countries to bypass the polluting and inefficient ways of conventional development and ‘leapfrog’ their way towards societies that promote green jobs, environmentally responsible practices and technology, efficient resource management, and community resilience.
SDG 12 Targets for Business
The UN has identified 11 targets and 13 indicators for establishing progress in SDG 12. Many of these goals are scaled for country government implementation; however, they can still be applied to business practice on a smaller scale to show a demonstrated commitment to securing a sustainable future.
Below are the most applicable targets and indicators to businesses:
- Implement the 10-year responsible consumption and production framework
- Sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources
- Responsible management of chemicals and waste
- Substantially reduce waste generation
- Encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and sustainability reporting
- Promote sustainable procurement practices
- Promote universal understanding of sustainable lifestyles
What is Responsible Production?
Responsible production requires manufacturing goods and services in an ethical and sustainable way that minimizes waste and pollution and supports long-term sustainability of surrounding communities and their natural environments. Oftentimes, the initial investment towards more sustainable processes will result in a greater return on investment in the long run. Additionally, more consumers are preferring organizations with demonstrated environmental and ethical practices. Ensuring your business abides by responsible production is a clear reflection of your corporate social responsibility which in turn drives customer attraction and sales.
Responsible Production in Business Practice
Below are the key targets for responsible production:
- Identify hot spots in the value chain where interventions have the greatest potential to improve the environmental and social impact of the systems as a whole.
- Minimize carbon emissions at all stages of production (SDG 13: Climate Action).
- Utilize renewable energy in production and service facilities (SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy).
- Eliminate waste from procurement to all stages of the supply chain.
- Control and reduce any harmful emissions and pollutants (SDG 15: Life on Land).
- Use environmentally safe chemicals, dyes, soaps and solutions (SDG 14: Life Below Water).
- Use energy efficient lighting.
- Ensure all supplies are sustainably sourced and certified.
- Reduce the volume of packaging materials and invest in eco-friendly packaging.
- Monitor the environmental impact at production and service sites and make adjustments accordingly.
- Bring environmental health and safety to the forefront of your business.
What is Responsible Consumption?
Responsible consumption extends beyond buying better, greener products and being more aware of their end-of-life destination. It also includes considering the environmental, social, health, and economic impacts of a product and its services.
Businesses must establish the criteria for responsible consumption when developing their products and services. In other words, products and services must not only be built from eco-friendly materials and sustainable production practices but also designed based on the extended environmental and social impacts they have when consumed.
Businesses act as consumers of product and services as well. Production and consumption have an irrefutable, synergistic relationship where producers are consumers, both in procurement of resources needed to manufacture their products and the materials used to run their business internally. They must consider how to be ethical and responsible consumers within their internal operations as well.
Responsible Consumption in Business Practice
Below are key criteria for responsible consumption:
- Products that have a low environmental impact such as those that have a low carbon footprint, preserve environmental integrity and resources, and are certified as truly eco-friendly (SDG 15: Life on Land).
- Healthier products that are hygienic, nutritional and do not use dangerous or toxic chemicals (SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being).
- Products with a positive economic impact especially for developing or low-income communities. These are often made locally and give back to the community, empower and educate local workers, and support safe and fair working conditions (SDG 8: Good Work and Economic Growth).
- Ethically and morally-conscious products such as those that are certified vegan, cruelty-free, fair trade and support worker wellbeing, reject child labor and respect local cultures and communities (SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities).
SDG 12 Implementation Examples
Some businesses are already making great strides at implementing responsible consumption and production into their practices.
Iceland-based clothing company, Dimmbla, is changing the norm of the clothing industry with nature-inspired styles that focus on clean, conscious production. The clothing is sourced and produced in India using sustainable methods and organic and innovative materials. The crops used to create the textiles are less water intensive and grown free of chemicals. Additionally, they aspire to reduce their manufacturing waste and create long-lasting clothing to divert textile waste from landfills. They utilize fabric scraps to make accessories and are launching a plastic-free campaign to reduce plastic packaging in their company processes and day-to-day lives.
Learn more about Dimmbla in our member story: Dimmbla Makes Zero Waste Clothing Production a Reality
Leaf’d is an online marketplace based in Los Angeles that provides ethical and sustainable products of all kinds including skincare, clothing, home decor, and pet supplies. To combat greenwashing, Leaf’d conducts a stringent vetting process to ensure the credibility and integrity of vendors attempting to sell on their platform. They make concerted efforts to reflect their commitment to sustainability through transparency and encourage their vendors and consumers to do the same. By providing a sustainable and ethical alternative for online shoppers and a platform for supporting green businesses, Leaf’d is helping create the green economy of the future.
Learn more about Leaf’d in our member story: Leaf’d: Eco-friendly Products that Support Social Justice and Fair Trade
Business leaders, sustainability managers and green teams can find ways to incorporate SDG 12 into their business models and practices. Here’s a simple playbook for getting started:
- Educate yourself, fellow executives and employees on SDG 12. Review the U.N. SDG Overview and download this PDF guide to SDG 12.
- Identify your company’s initiatives that are aligned with SDG 12 already.
- Implement the most impactful initiatives. Green Business Bureau has over 400 to choose from including initiatives related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste management, green procurement, vehicle emissions, water conservation, pollution reduction and energy efficient lighting.
- Ensure all supplies are sustainably sourced and certified.
- Set measurable targets to improve your production and consumption.
- Report on progress routinely. Here’s a sample sustainability scorecard.
- Communicate your company’s commitment to sustainability. You can reference SDG 12 for the initiatives related to production and consumption.
- Lead by example. Be an ambassador in the business world for responsible production and consumption.
You may find that your company has already adopted initiatives that drive SDG 12 action. Educating yourself and your colleagues about the UN’s goals will help you identify which consumption and production targets are most appropriately aligned with your company’s processes. It is up to you to help turn your business into a platform for good and an example of responsible production and consumption.
About the Author
GBB Green Ambassador
Leah Mowery is a content writer for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about using creativity and storytelling to relay the importance of sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal where she discovered a love for sustainable development. She fostered this interest in her Master’s in Global Sustainability program with a concentration in Climate Change at the University of South Florida. She enjoys painting, reading and all forms of outdoor recreation.