UN SDGs - Goal 12

Sustainable Investment
June 8 2018 - ,

Goal 12 - Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Responsible consumption and production aims to do more, and better, with less. By promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and provides access to basic services, decent jobs and a better quality of life for all, sustainable consumption and production patterns reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.

What is Goal 12?

Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals has a broad reaching aim to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. This includes, in target 12.1, implementation of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, adopted at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) in June 2012. The framework reaffirms that fundamental changes in the way societies produce and consume are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development. The other targets that underpin Goal 12 expand on this theme focusing, for example, on sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources (12.2); substantially reducing waste generation (12.5) and ensuring that public procurement practices are sustainable (12.7).

Why is Goal 12 important?

The importance of sustainably managing resources does not need restating here, but the fact that this will become more difficult as population increases, and as 'western' lifestyles are increasingly adopted, sets up an interesting conflict in the goals. The World Bank states that the greater the income level and the higher the rate of urbanisation the more waste is produced, and estimated in 2013 that global waste was on pace to triple by 2100. By 2020, 400 million people in China are estimated to be earning between 60,000 and 229,000 yuan, the increasing 'middle class' with higher disposable income spending is set to rise on cars and luxury goods. Goal 12 is therefore essential in tandem with poverty reduction (Goal 1), hunger reduction (Goal 2), and as economies grow (Goal 8).

How can companies contribute to the Goal?

As is common with other SDGs, if the Goal and underlying targets are to be met a wide range of actors need to be involved, including governments, citizens and companies with increased co-operation between them. A key aim is to decouple environmental degradation and resource use from economic growth, particularly with the predicted global population increase to 9.9 billion by 2050, an increase in 2.3 billion people. Various estimates of global resource use, for example, Global Footprint Network indicate that current resource use is already greater than the planet can sustain, implying that the lifestyles of the developed world simply cannot be adopted by all peoples.

Companies are clearly significant producers of goods, whether these are true needs or wants, fuelled by a profit incentive and marketing budgets. Decoupling these drivers from social and environmental impacts will require the actions of all companies, and certain of the targets can arguably be met by all, such as reducing waste generation, whereas others address specific areas, 12.3 aiming to "halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels".

In analysing the contributions companies can make, Ethical Screening makes a broad distinction between those made inherently by a beneficial product or service, for example water pollution control equipment, or by an improvement in company's processes, for example making an existing product using less water.

Our initial research has focused on identifying those companies that contribute directly through their products & services. DS Smith is Europe's largest recycler and processor of paper, recycling nearly 5 million tonnes of paper each year and with its European mills only manufacturing recycled paper, clearly contributing to target 12.5, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Similarly, Daiseki specialises in treating liquid industrial waste such as waste oil, which can be recycled and processed into lubricating oil, heavy oil or supplemental fuel, depending on its components. The company also treats and recycles sludge into recycled raw materials for cement or supplementary fuel.

Target 12.6 speaks directly to "encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle". However, as the focus is on the encouragement of other companies, we do not highlight all those, for example, who report on CSR issues. Companies deemed to be contributing include Bureau Veritas and Intertek Group which offer certification of quality and environmental standards (including ISO14001), the latter also including verification of environmental and sustainability reports.

The topical subject of food waste, is another clear example of an area where production and consumption need to be made more responsible. Recent estimates that some 30% or more of all food produced globally is wasted show the scale and importance of the problem.

Bunzl has a packaging division focused on the Foodservice and Grocery market sectors, this packaging being a key element in reducing food wasted by damage during transportation, and reducing losses from food going off (Tupperware also fulfils this objective). The sustainability of the packaging is also a key consideration, Mondelez for example targeting a significant reduction in packaging by weight, with no corresponding increase in food wastage. For food producers & retailers the whole supply chain is of importance, the main focuses being either reducing waste during production, and/or doing something useful with surplus food once it has been produced. For the latter, the majority of supermarkets have policies to reduce waste, such as sale of imperfect fruit and vegetables. Marstons uses waste ingredients to produce Biogas, whilst initiatives to reduce wasted food products include donations and selling at reduced cost. Whilst companies have a key role, it is debatable whether the scale of current initiatives is having meaningful impact.


The Goal has broad reaching objectives with targets that all companies can conceivably contribute to, including aims to achieve the sustainable management of natural resources, reduced waste, and the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes through their lifecycle. Longer term companies that produce solutions-oriented products & services should benefit, as should those that manage their processes to reduce the impacts of consumption and production.

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