UN Sustainable Development Goal 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production is about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all. Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.1
Progress toward this goal requires a move toward practices that limit harmful by-products. SDG 12 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: For example, strategies to promote SDG 12 also support progress toward SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that address Responsible Consumption & Production.
Invest in Access to Clean Air
Air quality is damaged by many production and consumption activities. Industrial activity and vehicles are the largest emitters of outdoor air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and fine particulate matter.2,3 These types of pollution are strongly linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease, causing over 4 million deaths annually.4 Encouraging responsible production cycles and consumer decisions that limit harmful emissions can increase access to clean air. In fact, air quality in the US has mostly improved since the 1990s due in part to more efficient technologies and the regulations of the Clean Air Act.5
Invest in Access to Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
The production of goods consumed globally has a major water footprint — irrigation accounts for 70% of all human withdrawals of water, while industry accounts for 20%.6 Excessive consumption of water depletes a resource that is already stretched thin; 40% of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity, and water use exceeds recharge in many watersheds.7 At the same time, increasing amounts of water are becoming contaminated. Agriculture is by far the greatest polluter of water, discharging chemical inputs and excessive organic material.8
Industry is also a significant culprit, dumping millions of tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes into water bodies
each year.9 Wider access to clean, safe water depends on the promotion of sustainable water consumption habits to ensure there is enough for a growing population, and on water-conscious production practices to avoid contaminating water.
Invest in Access to Education
While personal consumption habits and decisions have major environmental consequences,10 they can be made more sustainable by increased access to education. Education, especially when targeting environmental issues, has been shown to enhance learners’ ability to assess the consequences of their actions and causes a shift to more environmentally friendly behavior.11,12 Changing consumer habits is increasingly important as the global population pushes toward 8.6 billion by 2030 and as the 1.8 billion children below the age of 1413 mature and make consumer decisions.
Invest in Access to Affordable, Sustainable and Modern Energy
Globally, nearly 1 billion people lack access to electricity, and nearly 40% of the population relies on inefficient energy sources such as biomass, coal, and charcoal for heating and cooking.14,15 These fuels not only pollute indoor air, but contribute to environmental issues
such as deforestation and climate change.16 Providing access to modern, clean-burning cookstoves makes the consumption of energy by this 40% of the population significantly more sustainable. For those who have access to electricity or who are gaining access, associated energy sources will need to become more sustainable and efficient. Increased access to energy-efficient technology and renewable sources of energy have proven to be important factors in making energy consumption more sustainable.17
Invest in Access to Safe, Affordable and Sustainable Transportation
By 2030, consumption related to personal transportation will increase substantially with 1.2 billion more cars on the road and a 50% increase in passenger traffic over 2015 totals.18 These trends are expected to raise greenhouse gas contributions from the transport sector, which already contributes 18% of all human-made emissions.19 At the same time, emissions from freight and shipping are rising even more rapidly than those from personal transportation.20 Yet, access to transportation is key to economic growth and social opportunities.21 As more people worldwide seek the benefits of mobility, access to sustainable transport options means great reductions in the consequences of their consumption choices.
SDG 12: References
1 UN Sustainable Development Goals
2 Union of Concerned Scientists, Vehicles, Air Pollution, and Human Health
3 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, The State of Global Air, 2018
4 World Health Organization, Ambient Air Pollution: Health Impacts
5 Environmental Protection Agency, “Our Nation’s Air: Status and Trends Through 2017”
6 United Nations
7 UN Sustainable Development Goals
8 UNEP. 2016. A snapshot of the world’s water quality: towards a global assessment
9 The United Nations World Water Development Report 2017: Wastewater, the untapped resource
10 Visions for Change: Recommendations for Effective Policies on Sustainable Lifestyles, UNEP, 2011
11 The Consumer Citizenship Network, Project Report 2005-2006, Hedmark University College, 2006
12 Zsoka et al. 2013. Greening due to environmental education? Environmental knowledge, attitudes, consumer behavior and everyday pro-environmental activities of Hungarian high school and university students
13 United Nations, World Population Prospects 2017
14 UN Sustainable Development Goals
15 Access to Modern Energy: Assessment and Outlook for Developing and Emerging Regions
16 Anenberg S. Balakrishnan K, Jetter J, Masera O, Mehta S, Moss J, Ramanathan V., Cleaner Cooking Solutions to Achieve Health, Climate, and Economic Cobenefits. 2013
17 Global Energy Trends, 2018 edition. A step backward for the energy transition?
18 Global Mobility Report, 2017, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative
20 Decarbonizing Transport For a Sustainable Future: Conference Proceedings, Fifth EU-US Transport Research Symposium, National Academy of Sciences, 2017
21 Global Mobility Report, 2017, Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative.