Goal 12 calls for consumers and producers to reverse current trends, decoupling resource exploitation from economic growth and ensuring sustainable practices. Unfortunately, material consumption continues to rise, posing a significant challenge to all of the Sustainable Development Goals. According to the UN, “worldwide material consumption reached 92.1 billion tons, up from 87 billion in 2015 and a 254 per cent increase from 27 billion in 1970.”
The UN’s targets for Goal 12 include implementing a 10-year program to achieve the following:
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle to limit the amount of waste generated, noting the importance of reducing food waste in particular.
- Achieve an environmentally sound management of harmful chemicals, paying particular attention to preserving soil, air, and water quality.
- Encourage transnational companies to adopt and report on sustainable practices.
- Eliminate market distortions such as subsidies to fossil fuel companies.
- Develop and implement tools to educate individuals and monitor progress toward achieving sustainability across all sectors.
While companies and nations are gradually increasing their reporting on sustainable practices, the patchwork of metrics and policies leaves much room for improvement. Just last year, the United States announced a retreat from the Paris Climate Agreement, and only about half of the world’s countries have implemented national programs for increasing consumption and production efficiency.
The stories in this collection focus on solutions toward building circular economies. From zero-waste shops in the UK, to a reusable container service in North Carolina, businesses are nudging consumers toward more sustainable practices by eliminating plastic and Styrofoam. The fashion industry is another sector where sustainable solutions are in vogue. Read on to discover how manufacturers like Levi’s are using new methods to reduce water use. Others in the fashion industry are simply looking to upcycling—reusing secondhand clothing and fibers to reduce the amount of new textiles manufactured.
At BlueCity in Rotterdam, Netherlands, circular economy ("Blue Economy" is another terms for "Circular Economy") entrepreneurs are gathered in a former spa resort as they attempt to create a true circular economy in which one company's output is another company's input.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on ensuring responsible consumption and production.
- Define the terms “end user,” “extended producer responsibility,” and “circular economy.” Explain how these concepts relate to creating a more sustainable economic model.
- Articulate the advantages of moving farms indoors, and how the pandemic has focused attention on these kinds of efforts. Identify other industries or sectors that could benefit from the same concept and describe how that might work.
- What is “upcycling?” How does it pertain to the fashion industry, and to what other applications can the concept be applied?
- Explain the significance of food waste within Goal 12 and within the overall goal of carbon reduction, paying particular attention to how the energy associated with food waste increases as you move through the supply chain.
- What role does technology play in helping us achieve circular economies? After reading the piece by Catherine Cheney, first, discuss the concept “internet of things.” Next, discuss how IoT can assist in achieving Goal 12. Try to imagine new applications for IoT. What are some possible setbacks?
- Examine at least two other SDGs and their targets alongside Goal 12. Then, either explain or illustrate how the targets of these SDGs relate to or influence one another.
- Choose an Issue Area or a Success Factor related to Goal 12. Then, create a collection and select at least 4 (or more) stories from the Solution’s Story Tracker that relate to your topic. If working with groups, each group can present on the issues and solutions they found most compelling.
- Traditionally, the “end user” is the consumer of a product, what has typically be seen as the end of a supply chain. However, the concept for a circular economy aims to create closed loops for resources, ensuring that products and resources are not simply discarded, but rather repurposed or reused. The EU Parliament provides the following definitions for “circular economy” and "extended producer responsibility”: “Circular economy: an economic model based inter alia on sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling, in an (almost) closed loop, which aims to retain the highest utility and value of products, components and materials at all times. Extended producer responsibility (EPR): an environmental policy approach whereby producers take over the financial and/or organisational responsibility for collecting or taking back used goods, as well as sorting and treatment for their recycling.”
- The most obvious advantage is reducing the distance the food is transported. An ancillary benefit of that reduced distance is enhanced freshness and nutritional value. Farming in a controlled indoor space makes pest control much more efficient, requires far less pesticide application, which in turn reduces runoff. Topsoil is stable and can’t blow away in the wind. The indoor environment is also much less susceptible to deleterious environmental factors such as drought, storms, or infestations. Water use is dramatically reduced when farming indoors—a head of lettuce grown in California or Arizona requires 40 gallons of water to maturity; that same lettuce grown hydroponically indoors requires one. Because of global shelter-in-place orders and shortages during the pandemic, people are paying much more attention to supply chains, especially groceries. Student answers will vary to the second question.
- “Upcycling” refers to repurposing used or discarded materials into new products of higher value. The concept of upcycling is increasingly common in the textile and fashion industry. Because of the additional labor involved in transforming discarded articles of clothing into luxury items, the value-added constitutes the difference between traditional recycling—which sees discarded items broken down into a reusable raw material—and upcycling which tends to focus on creating new products.
- A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. In the United States, almost 40 percent of all food produced is wasted. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in a landfill. Food waste accounts for approximately 8 percent of global carbon emissions. Each step in the production and distribution chains of food requires energy. Seeds must be purchased, planted, and watered. Crops must be harvested and stored. These raw materials must be transported, processed, and transported again. Then they must be converted to foodstuffs, which requires intensive energy. Subsequently, these foodstuffs must be transported and stored before their sale. The energy required at each step increases as the food approaches final sale, and the cumulative energy required also increases with the length of the production and distribution chains.
- The Internet of things refers to the interconnection of objects to enable them to transmit data. The technology of IoT helps producers gather large amounts of data and track products through their lifecycles, improving efficiency. Privacy concerns may be an obstacle to broad implementation of IoT. Here is another link to the piece by Catherine Cheney.
- Answers will vary by student. Goal 12 especially relates to the targets of Goals 2 (end hunger), 3 (health and wellbeing), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water), 15 (life on land).
- Answers will vary—for more on creating collections, click here. For more on Success Factors, click here.