Nowadays, consumers are more engaged and attracted by companies adopting strategies related to responsible consumption and production. This new way of consumption drove companies to transform their business operations to become more environmentally and socially responsible. These new strategies are perfectly aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 12 “Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns”.
What is SDG 12 exactly? What is the situation in 2023? What are the main challenges facing organizations in adopting sustainable production and consumption patterns?
SDG 12: Ensure Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns
What is SDG 12?
Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG 12) is one of the essential objectives outlined by the United Nations as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which consists of 17 global goals. This particular goal focuses on "Responsible Consumption and Production”.
The core aim of SDG 12 is to establish sustainable patterns of consumption and production worldwide. It acknowledges that current practices in developed nations often lead to inefficiencies, wastefulness, and adverse environmental and societal impacts. To combat these challenges, SDG 12 emphasizes the necessity for responsible and efficient resource utilization, reducing waste generation, and promoting the sustainable use of natural resources.
To achieve this goal, 11 specific targets have been set for each corresponding indicator. They include:
- Implementing the 10-year Framework of Programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns encourages countries to adopt sustainable policies and practices in this domain.
- Ensuring the sustainable management and efficient use of vital resources such as water, energy, and raw materials.
- Reducing food waste at retail and consumer levels and promoting sustainable food production and distribution systems.
- Encouraging businesses to integrate sustainability practices throughout their operations and supply chains.
- Raising awareness and inspiring individuals and businesses to adopt more sustainable practices and lifestyles.
By promoting responsible consumption and production, SDG 12 plays a vital role in fostering a sustainable global economy and a healthier planet. It seeks to encourage environmentally and socially conscious behaviors, both at the individual and corporate levels, contributing to long-term environmental preservation and human well-being.
The situation in 2023
“Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda will become an epitaph for a world that might have been”.
António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations.
We are in the middle of the period set to achieve the objectives of SDGs, and we find ourselves in a quite difficult situation. However, when it comes to SDG 12 targets there are some general good figures. According to the Sustainable Development Goals 2023 Report, SDG 12 progress assessment based on assessed targets shows some promises. 38% of the targets are met or already on track. However, 62% of the targets are not yet achieved, and in some cases, there is a huge stagnation or even regression phase. Therefore, the challenge is even greater, today to achieve full targets by 2030.
In addition, despite the increase in the organizations’ number for reporting on corporate sustainability, the SDG report shows many unfortunate figures. In high-income countries, the material footprint per capita is 10 times higher than that in low-income countries. Additionally, the global progress towards halving per capita food waste and losses by 2030 is falling significantly short of its target. Consequently, it becomes imperative to embrace sustainable policies and promote awareness to achieve efficient and sustainable management of finite and unevenly exploited natural resources by the year 2030.
Moreover, fossil fuel subsidies are rising again, and by 2021 the levels were similar to 2014. In 2021, governments spent around 732 billion dollars and even surpassed the 2018 levels. These numbers are not reassuring as the governments’ support for fossil fuel greatly impacts the climate, and increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Changes to encourage the transition to cleaner and greener energy are more than urgent.
The report also shows that approximately 13.2% of the global food supply is lost during its journey from the farm to the consumer, along the supply chain after harvest. Moreover, around 17% of the total food available to consumers is wasted at the household, food service, and retail levels. There are many actions to be done especially when it comes to E-waste reduction and reuse, and to try and decrease the disparities between High and Low-income countries. These differences are due to many factors and challenges, from cultural differences to bad, uncontrolled, and non-sustainable practices.
The Challenges Face by Organizations To Achieve SDG 12 Targets
Companies and organizations face several challenges in their efforts to achieve the targets outlined in SDG 12. These challenges are very different and they go from limited awareness about the importance of sustainable practices to complex global supply chains.
Here are some examples of challenges faced by organizations:
- Lack of awareness and understanding: Many companies and organizations may not fully grasp the significance and implications of SDG 12. Raising awareness about sustainable consumption and production practices and their long-term benefits is crucial to inspire action.
- Complex supply chains: Companies often operate with complex supply chains spanning the globe, making it difficult to trace the origin and sustainability of raw materials. Ensuring responsible sourcing and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain requires substantial coordination and investment.
- Cost and financial constraints: For some companies, implementing sustainable practices may necessitate upfront investments that they view as additional financial burdens. The focus on short-term cost considerations can discourage them from embracing more sustainable alternatives.
- Resistance to change and cultural influence: Some organizations may resist change, especially if they have operated in certain ways for an extended period. Shifting towards more sustainable practices might involve changes in processes, technologies, or business models, which could face internal resistance. In addition, some cultures may influence business practices and how they are done, which may not align with the SDG 12 targets.
- Consumer behavior: Companies frequently respond to consumer demands and preferences. However, if there is limited consumer awareness or willingness to pay for sustainable products and services, companies may hesitate to invest in eco-friendly options.
- Data and reporting challenges: For companies with extensive operations and global supply chains, measuring and reporting progress toward SDG 12 targets can be challenging. The lack of standardized metrics and reporting frameworks can hinder their efforts in this regard.
Despite these challenges, companies and organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of sustainability and responsible consumption and production. Many are actively addressing these obstacles through innovation, partnerships, policy advocacy, and sustainability initiatives. Governments, consumers, and civil society also play pivotal roles in supporting and incentivizing companies and organizations to achieve SDG 12 targets. However, many reports and studies show that the companies’ actions are becoming more and more sustainable in high-income countries where investments and green initiatives are more popular than in low-income countries. But still, these companies are facing an important challenge related to data monitoring and centralizing all the necessary information to report their corporate sustainability practices.
Digital Technologies To Better Monitor SDG 12’s Indicators
As mentioned above, we are falling behind the schedule set to achieve the SDGs, even if SDG 12 is relatively on track in terms of achievements, there is still a long way to go to fully reach all the targets. Especially since there are many obstacles and challenges faced by many organizations around the world.
Therefore, to start facing and addressing some of these challenges, organizations can rely on digital technologies. When it comes to data collection and monitoring, digital tools enable easy collection, centralization, aggregation, and analysis of vast amounts of information related to consumption and production patterns. Streamlining data management and reporting processes are facilitated by these tools, making it easier for businesses, governments, and companies to track their progress on SDG 12 indicators. The monitoring can include tracking resource use and sources, waste generation and treatment, and carbon and GHG emissions. The accomplishment of these indicators can lead, if the organization wishes it, to eco-labeling and certifications.
Nowadays, eco-labeling and certifications are important, especially from a consumer point of view. Achieving accreditation and certification are made possible and easily prepared, thanks to self-assessment modules. These modules can be implemented by any organization via preconfigured, customizable, and digital forms, making sure that everything is in place and that all the processes comply with the targeted requirements. In addition, these labels can play an important role when it comes to changing the culture of business operations from the inside to the outside. Thanks to raising awareness campaigns are easily shared on a digital platform, and all the information is made available and accessible anywhere and anytime by all concerned stakeholders. Consequently, depending on the labels of the company and self-assessment modules, they have an important role in the choice of suppliers and their services. The assessment modules can be used to rightfully choose the best suppliers according to the company’s sustainable policy and actions.
The main challenge remains the complex supply chain. Digital tools can help with supply chain transparency by enabling real-time tracking of materials, products, and their sources. This level of visibility helps identify inefficiencies and unsustainable practices within the supply chain, allowing businesses to take corrective actions. In addition, digital tools can play an important role in the circular economy. The same tracking and transparency can be used to monitor these resources and make sure that they are reused, refurbished, or recycled instead of discarded as waste.
Finally, digital technologies can streamline and automate the reporting process for businesses, enabling them to monitor their advancement toward SDG 12 targets effortlessly. By employing automated reporting systems, accuracy, transparency, and accountability in achieving sustainability objectives are enhanced.
The time is now, and actions must be taken and accelerated to achieve the SDG goals by 2030. Organizations, governments, and individuals can work together to achieve many of these goals, especially SDG 12. Raising awareness about sustainable consumption and production is no easy task. However, sustainable practices and patterns to achieve the SDG 12 targets necessitate transparency and a complete transformation in some business operations and cultures. Therefore, relying on digital technologies can greatly help to overcome the obstacles to achieving SDG 12 targets, and keep track of all business processes, waste management, and sustainability reporting.
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