12. Responsible Consumption and Production

How business leadership can advance Goal 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production

Responsible consumption and production is fundamental to sustainable development. Thus far, economic growth has been deeply connected to unsustainable outcomes including the degradation of natural capital, the advance of climate change, and violations of human rights. For example, unsustainable consumption and production has, to differing extents around the world, caused greenhouse gas emissions to surge, contributed to severe air pollution, decreased agricultural productivity threatening livelihoods and social cohesion, and heightened water scarcity. Waste production has led to burgeoning landfills with large methane emissions and negative health impacts as well as serious plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Food production and consumption is also one of the primary causes of biodiversity loss through habitat degradation, overexploitation of fish, pollution, and soil loss.

As producers of much of the world’s output, businesses have a central role to play in advancing responsible production and consumption. They can manage sustainability of their own operations by improving efficiencies, look to source more sustainable inputs, improve the sustainability of products and services at the point of use with credible sustainability information, report publicly on their sustainability performance and that of their supply chain, and take steps to ensure their products are not misused to violate human rights.

There is significant scope for business leadership on Goal 12 given the potential for increasing sustainability of production and consumption. Businesses can radically overhaul their existing models by designing and adopting responsible, circular business models. They can significantly narrow or even close the material and energy loops across own and supply chain operations using existing and new technologies and materials. They can shift to a portfolio of goods and services that require, and promote, negligible use of resources and negligible production of waste when used, including developing products and services with extended useful lifetimes, accurate sustainability labelling, and education of consumers on use phase and disposal. There is also scope for leadership in transparency and reporting, particularly by developing, implementing, and sharing solutions for tracing and reporting on sustainability of production and consumption across end-to-end operations and their impact on surrounding communities.

These leading actions can have both significant environmental benefits and major positive impacts through respecting and supporting human rights, as new business models and sustainable products and services find their way to vulnerable populations, supporting human development. Business should, however, ensure that they manage any risk of negative impact on human rights associated with new business models, ways of producing, and product designs; especially where they might impact vulnerable populations in developing countries.

The business case for leadership on Goal 12 includes substantial reductions in production costs for companies with resource intensive production processes. It is estimated that European companies alone could save €600 billion annually. Supplying products and services that are more sustainable in their use enables businesses to compete in markets where government regulations and consumer preferences are becoming oriented towards sustainability. For example, there is increasing evidence that consumers are demanding certified and traceable products. Less dependence on resources also means companies can avoid volatility in raw material prices and availability. And, at a fundamental level, advancing Goal 12 is a necessity for safeguarding long-term productivity, preserving the natural resource base for the future, and ensuring resilience in the face of environmental shocks and disease outbreaks.

Goal 12 ties the people, planet and prosperity goals together. Action on Goal 12 is strongly interconnected with outcomes on other SDGs related to resource use and the environment, as well as those focused on people. Action on Goal 12 can advance SDGs through its connection with life on land and water (Goals 14 and 15), its impact on the use and contamination of water (Goal 6), associated use of energy (Goal 7) and impacts on climate change (Goal 13). Progress on Goal 8 implies that Goal 12 becomes ever more significant, as current production and consumption rates per unit of income cannot be sustained in the future. Companies that aim to lead on Goal 12 must carefully manage risks that result from this interconnectedness. These include pressures to substitute natural resource use in production with unfair labor practices. Leading companies recognize and take account of these interconnections, especially ensuring that changing production and consumption decisions respect the human rights of potentially affected populations.

Do your actions satisfy the Leadership Qualities?

Guiding Questions to apply to the Leadership Qualities to your business






  • Is your company committed to supporting the achievement of Goal 12? Have you developed a holistic strategy that reflects this commitment, covering end-to-end operation and the wider community?
  • Are you committed to learn from your actions and do you have processes in place to improve them accordingly?
  • Is your strategy supported by the highest levels of management, including the Board of Directors?

Key Considerations

Explicit, continuous top level commitment is essential to drive the changes in the way business is done that are necessary to achieve responsible production and consumption, overcoming organizational inertia and risk aversion.

  • Do your actions achieve long-term outcomes that greatly exceed those resulting from current industry practice?
  • Are your actions aligned with what is needed to achieve Goal 12?

Key Considerations

Ambition on Goal 12 implies inspiring others by taking holistic, replicable action spanning end-to-end operations. Incremental changes are insufficient to realize the necessary changes in production and consumption patterns so that they remain within planetary boundaries.

  • Is support for Goal 12 embedded across all organizational functions?
  • Are staff and board incentives aligned with achieving Goal 12?

Key Considerations

All organizational functions need to be fully aligned with the strategic commitment to Goal 12. Many actions on Goal 12 require a holistic approach, which makes active involvement of the entire organization crucial.

  • Do you proactively look for opportunities to partner with Governments, UN agencies, suppliers, civil society organizations, industry peers and other stakeholders to inform how to advance Goal 12?

Key Considerations

Many innovations are born by cross-fertilisation of ideas between different sectors and stakeholders. Some of the largest gains can be made with systems-level innovations which impact a wide variety of stakeholders. All of this renders collaboration crucial for leading action.

  • Do you publicly express your commitment to advance Goal 12?
  • Do you identify, monitor, and report on impacts, including potentially adverse impacts?
  • Do you mitigate risks associated with your action?
  • Do you remediate negative impacts associated with this action?
  • Do you engage stakeholders in a meaningful way?

Key Considerations

Monitoring and publicly reporting on sustainable business practices is key for realizing Goal 12. Where action reaches areas with vulnerable populations and ecosystems, social and environmental safeguards must be in place, and risks of negative impacts carefully managed.

Business Actions


Adopt a circular business model


Close material and energy loops


Promote negligible use of resources in your portfolio


Conduct sustainability reporting

How taking action on Goal 12 is interconnected with other Goals

The Global Goals are inherently interconnected. Action taken toward one Goal can support or hinder the achievement of others. Identifying and addressing these interconnections will help business to build holistic and systemic solutions that amplify progress and minimize negative impacts. To help build a greater understanding, we have illustrated some of the ways in which the Goals connect. These are not exhaustive, and we encourage business to consider how they apply in their own operations.

Maximise likelihood of positive impact on:

Reducing waste and pollution can positively impact human health and well-being (Goal 3). Improving resource efficiency in how goods and services are produced and consumed is likely to reduce industry demands for water and energy inputs, contributing to progress on Goals 6 and 7. Resource efficiency should also reduce emissions from industry, supporting climate commitments (Goal 13). Sustainable production will result in less land and water pollution, with consideration of environmental impacts leading to reduced deforestation and biodiversity loss (Goals 14 and 15).

Minimise risk of negative impact on:

The use of new or different material and energy inputs could negatively impact health if these are harmful (Goal 3). Resource efficient production focuses on natural resource-related inputs, but may not directly consider labour inputs, which are often substitutes. These dimensions must be managed to avoid negative impacts on work conditions (Goal 8) and ensure complete delivery of the sustainable development agenda.

Goal 12 Targets

Targets of Goal 12

  1. Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, all countries taking action, with developed countries taking the lead, taking into account the development and capabilities of developing countries
  2. By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources
  3. By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses
  4. By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment
  5. By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse
  6. Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle
  7. Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities
  8. By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature