Goal 12—Ensuring Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns: An Essential Requirement for Sustainable Development

Goal 12 of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) proposed by the Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly of the United Nations is aiming at ensuring sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns. Why is this an imperative for sustainable development?

The Importance of SCP

By 2050, the world population will reach 9.5 billion,1 70 per cent of which will live in resource-intensive urban areas. Three billion middle class consumers will join the global economy by 2040. While the global poverty line of US $1.25 a day in 2010 was less than half the 1990 rate, 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty.2 To respond to these challenges within the carrying capacity of the Earth system, the adoption of sustainable patterns of consumption and production is an imperative, as it conserves through resource efficiency the basis for future development.

This has been a consistent message from the international community since 2002. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and “The future we want” outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, both recognized that “poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are t he overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development”.3

Today, the inclusion of SDG 12 in the proposed SDGs recognizes the essential and cross-cutting role of SCP in sustainable development. Targets in 12 of the other SDGs are also oriented towards the achievement of SCP patterns.

The High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, commissioned by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2013, designated SCP as one of the four key areas on which progress is needed to achieve their post-2015 vision: “to end extreme poverty in all its forms…and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all”.4 The High-level Panel recognizes that transforming economies for jobs and inclusive growth requires a rapid shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production.5  The Panel found that the world’s consumption and production patterns need to be managed in a more sustainable and equitable way and that only by mobilizing economic, social and environmental action together, can we irreversibly reduce poverty.6

Indeed, SCP, by its cross cutting nature, addresses inter-linkages and adopts a holistic approach, taking into account the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development in a balanced and integrated manner. Consumption and production activities are the basis of the global economy, but current patterns are fast depleting natural capital, degrading ecosystem services and undermining the capacity of countries to meet their needs in a sustained way. The shift to SCP patterns implies increasing efficiency and productivity throughout the supply chain and the life cycle of the products, now and over the long-term.

Goal 12 on SCP and SCP in Other Goals

SDG 12 covers both the efficiency in use and management of natural resources (target 12.2), environmental impacts such as waste management (target 12.5), and release of contaminants, especially chemical substances (target 12.4). The goal engages all actors to contribute to sustainable development, including the private sector (target 12.6). The importance of consumer information and education for sustainable development and lifestyles is highlighted (target 12.8). The role of the public sector through sustainable public procurement (target 12.7), as well as the shift towards SCP in the food system (target 12.3) and the tourism sector (target 12.b) are identified too. The need for policies for SCP is underlined through the implementation of the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production patterns (10YFP) (target 12.1), while finance and capacity-building (target 12.a) are presented as means of implementation, including by addressing fossil fuel subsidies (target 12.c).

Consumption and production are at the core of the global economy. Yet current unsustainable production and consumption patterns lead to deforestation, water scarcity, food waste, and high carbon emissions, and cause the degradation of key ecosystems. Accomplishment of the SCP goal will create synergies and support attainment of other goals on food, water and energy, while also contributing to climate change mitigation.

What is SCP?

Everything we produce and consume has either a positive or negative impact on the economy, the environment and social development. Achieving sustainable consumption and production patterns secures efficiency and productivity gains, ensuring that human activities remain within the carrying capacity of the planet, while respecting the rights of future generations.

SCP means doing more and better with less. It is about “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations”.7

SCP encompasses the objective of a systematic decoupling of economic growth from escalating resource use and environmental degradation, in order to do “more with less”. Decoupling will be achieved through reduction of material/ energy intensity of current economic activities and reduction of emissions and waste from extraction, production, consumption and disposal. By using the life cycle approach as a tool to achieve SCP, actions will be taken to influence both supply and demand of sustainable products, and avoid burden-shifting between different stages of product life cycles.

How to implement SCP?

The 10YFP was adopted at Rio+20, and is a global framework for collaboration and capacity-building for the shift towards SCP. The 10YFP will enhance international cooperation to accelerate the shift towards SCP patterns in both developed and developing countries, delivering that support at regional and national levels in accordance with local needs and priorities. The current six programmes of the 10YFP are on: Sustainable tourism, including ecotourism; Sustainable lifestyles and education; Sustainable public procurement; Consumer information; Sustainable buildings and construction; and Sustainable food systems. Implementation of the 10YFP is included as target 12.1 of the SCP goal.

In conclusion, SDG 12 is essential in achieving the SDGs, as it enables many of them and is a requirement for sustainable development. The shift towards sustainable consumption and production patterns has already started in many parts of the world, and urgently needs to be accelerated and scaled up, through the 10YFP and other broad and sustained initiatives and policies.   


1   Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. Vol. I (ST/ESA/SER.A/336) and II (ST/ESA/SER.A/345) (New York, United Nations Publications, 2013).

2   World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Global Monitoring Report 2013: Rural-Urban Dynamics and the Millennium Development Goals (Washington, D.C., 2013), p. xi, 22, 25.

3   United Nations General Assembly resolution (A/RES/66/288), 11 September 2012.

4   Communiqué: Meeting of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, in Bali, 27 March 2013, p.1. Available from http://www.un.org/sg/management/pdf/Final%20Communique%20Bali.pdf.

5   Report of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development (New York, United Nations Publications, 2013).

6   Ibid.

7   Norwegian Ministry of Environment, Oslo Symposium on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP), 1994; this has become the widely accepted definition of sustainable consumption and production.