SDG 12: Does Sustainable Consumption Exist
Joaquim Gubert; Patricia Medrano; Esther Asti; Sultan Arrafi; and Kiti Kainulainen
Introduction of SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
The aim of SDG 12 is to ensure sustainable consumption and production. These two go hand in hand, just like supply and demand. The possible solutions to the goal are recycling, upcycling, creating intangible value, developing safe products and enforcing less harmful consumption patterns. All this in order to mitigate all the harm that consumption has caused to the environment and communities.
We all have multiple roles in life. A single person may be a parent, a daughter, a friend and a professional at the same time. SDG 12 calls for action in all of these roles that each person has. There is no escaping from the matter. In the industry, the professionals should develop more sustainable products that appeal to their customers and shift the paradigm. At home, the consumers should choose smartly when they consume food, clothes, housing and transportation, just to mention a few.
Akenji and Bengtsson (2014) argue that sustainable consumption and production should play a prominent role in the formulation and implementation of the SDGs. Furthermore, they suggest that there should be new concepts of wealth and prosperity that are less dependent on the Earth’s finite resources. The higher standards of living should be in harmony with the carrying capacity of the planet. Short-term tendencies, habits and routines need to work together with long-term goals in order to take care of the planet and the planet of future generations.
However, there is a big difference between developed and developing countries that challenge successful implementation of climate measures (Akenji and Bengtsson, 2014). The first is equity among populations and equal access to ecological resources, meaning that not all of the Earth’s population has the means to meet their wellbeing needs. The second one is fairness in the distribution of the burden and damages from historic and present unsustainable consumption and production. The history of establishing colonies and overconsumption by the Global North has led to a situation where the Global South suffers the consequences of the climate crisis first. The third one is the differences in the capacities to address the problems of unsustainable consumption and production.
Boström and Klintman (2019) state that in the canon of academic literature on sustainable consumption the key question is whether people are motivated and prompted to support such consumption. We cannot invest unrealistic hopes in solving climate change through consumer choice.
There are five key constraining mechanisms that prevent climate-friendly consumption (Boström and Klintman, 2019). The value-action gap means that people’s actions do not match the climate-conscious attitudes they possess. Individualisation of responsibility puts a lot of pressure on end-customers and ignores the structural factors. Knowledge gap is about consumers’ lack of knowledge on complex environmental issues such as climate change and the possibility to share misleading climate information. Ethical fetishism is the pattern of naively celebrating one’s green identity and seemingly good deeds. Ultimately, the rebound effect happens when reduced or removed climate-harmful practices are replaced by other climate-harmful practices.
It seems that we need a major shift in the paradigm. If we can’t trust the customers in making smart choices, companies implementing sustainable production patterns and decision-makers incentivising both of the latter, who can we trust? Therefore we can’t help but to ask, is there such a thing as sustainable consumption?
At the end of the day, SDG 12 is “17 in 1”. As SDGs are a way to define sustainability, it would be contradictory to use any other definition of it. Therefore, promoting sustainable consumption and production has to take into account all the other SDGs, making SDG 17 an enormous goal. As they say in the finance and banking industry, this goal is too big to fail.
Description and comparison of the innovations
The stories that were assigned to us were divided into a few categories which are agriculture, buildings, cars, seas, textile, food and beverage, feminine hygiene, recycling, and local sustainable economy. Firstly, from the farming industry we have Auravant. Auravant specializes in processing agricultural-related information for decision making with the help of technologies such as satellites and softwares. The software is beginner-friendly and also free, hence many agricultural producers are able to operate it. Also whenever there are some changes in the land that were detected by the satellite, the producers can be automatically informed through email notification.
We also have another business that shares some commonalities in terms of the agriculture sector, it is OVIS XXI. OVIS XXI has a pretty innovative-yet-sustainable farm management that helps the farmer adjust the quantity of the demand and supply of forages to make sure that the flock has the best nutrient to consume. OVIS XXI also helps to maintain desertification and fight climate change, which are also one of the most impacting factors to the longevitiy of farm industries.
Dean’s Beans produces coffee with the objective to not just earn profits but to also ensure the welfare of its workers. Dean’s Beans has participated in improving the quality of the farmer’s life comprehensively, all the way from economic perspective to supporting gender equality, health maintenance and the quality of the coffee. Dean’s Beans also helps maintain environmental sustainability as they practice reforestation and organic farming.
Last example from the farming industry is Ixcacao. Just like the previous farms, Ixcacao promotes sustainable farming practices through organic farming for cacaos. Organic cacaos farming is also applied here as the plantations need years to finally become able to be harvested. Ixcacao farm also promotes physical health to their customers by not adding artificial sweetener nor any synthetical color to their products. Other similar businesses like Letcetra with their indoor hydroponics, Aguapa through their campaign about the threats of some substance to public health and the environmental damages that might occur, and Equal Exchange with their fair trade business model.
As for the food and beverages sector we have a few stories from Guayaki, Nelwa’s Gelato. Guayaki produced yerba mate tea from the South American rainforest. Due to collecting their main ingredient from the rainforest, Guayaki practices regenerative agriculture. Hence it ensures the quantity of yerba mate in its natural habitat to prevent it from being endangered. Guayaki also makes sure that their product is delivered through human’s natural interconnection, meaning they highly regard personal connection through the way they market their product. Guayaki business model impacts not just environmental preservation but also cultural preservation as yerba mate tea is a traditional beverage to the indigenous people in the surrounding.
Nelwa’s Gelato is another inspiration for us to look through as not only they preserve local culture through ice cream but also supporting gender equality by assigning Tanzanian women to the firm’s leader positions. Nelwa supplied her ice cream ingredients from the local suppliers so her business benefits the local producers too, she did this due to many ice cream shops importing their ingredients which impacted negatively to the local stakeholders. She also gave education through her workshops and training to the women in the surrounding in order for them to gain independence. Another unique business is Alcagüete as whenever they sell a product, they deliver snacks to the needed child through a well specialized foundation. Alcagüete does this in order to combat malnutrition in Colombia.
Architerra, EcoDom, Fred’s Tiny Houses, and iBuild Building Construction represent sustainable construction and infrastructure. Architerra provides sustainable house-design that involves all stakeholders including the customer to the plan-making. This step breaks the stigma that designing and building sustainable housing is too costly. According to Architerra, the business model can be delivered in a modest way through this planning step. Both EcoDom and Fred’s Tiny Houses have similarity in terms of providing eco-friendly constructions, what distinguishes them is the placing as EcoDom focuses on landhouses but Fred focuses on house-on-the-wheel. Though there is a similarity between iBuild and Fred’s Tiny Houses, both of them produce low carbon footprint in the building of the houses with Fred’s produces zero carbon emission and iBuild can reduce the bill of the building’s energy by 25%.
There are many businesses with recycling services as their core business strategy. Firstly we have Cemex which recycles Refused Derived Fuels (RDF) material like paper, plastic, and textiles. Cemex turns those non recyclable materials into cement. Just like Cemex, TerraCycle also turns non recyclable materials into something usable based on the customer’s demand. Lush recycled ocean plastic wastes into their products’ packaging, as they also produce daily necessities like toiletries and skin care. La Escombrera co-partnered with local constructors in order to recycle the construction wastes and then resell the recycled construction wastes with a competitive price. Natuh-Ecohilandes produces raw materials from a mixture of plastic bottle waste and fabric waste from its manufacturer. Pure Waste also does the similar practice as Natuh-Ecohilandes.
Lastly, as a necessity producers we have THINX, Monthly Cup AB, and Lunette. All the previous mentioned products produce menstrual products in a different form. For example, THINX sells period-proof underwear while Monthly Cup AB and Lunette produce menstrual cups. Although the goods sold are different, both have the same objective which is to reduce the disposable menstrual waste. Another company that we read was ERAC (Enterprise Rent-A-Car) that makes car rental more accessible to a wider target market.
Sea Going Green is by far most unique compared to the rest of the businesses. Sea Going Green is pretty unique due to the core business in the consultancy sector and the main customers are the business owners in many tourist destination areas in the Netherland, Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. At the same time, Stora Enso preserves forest from harming business practices like deforestation through their campaigns.
Critical reflection essay
Sustainable Development Goals are not only the present, but also the future. SDG 12 is, as we have mentioned before “17 goals in 1”, and in the core to achieving the rest of the goals. Consumption practices are led by consumer preferences and choice. Some practices follow worldwide trends and some are guided only by individual specific preferences.
Sustainable consumption has been a goal for international agents since forever. In 1992 the World Summit in Sustainable Development prioritized sustainable production and consumption and the efforts were reinforced in 20212 by UN’s “Ten-Year Framework of Programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production (Vergragt et al., 2015)
Having taken into account the fact that SDG 12 has been calling for action for a long time already and industry and consumers still remain unaware and refuse to act, we highlight the importance of this goal and proudly value the enterprises and initiatives that work towards a better future regarding SDG 12.
The stories we have analyzed are varied and work on different areas of production and consumption. For a better understanding and analysis of these projects we divided them into different areas: agriculture, buildings, cars, seas, textile, food and beverage, feminine hygiene, recycling, and local sustainable economy.
Moreover, the impact of these initiatives vary from one to another, depending on the scope of their activities as well as their background and for long each project has been active. Regarding the initiatives that target the importance and improvement of recycling, as TerraCycle or EcoDom, we have come up with the idea that garbage should only be identified with that which is totally irremediable. We generate garbage on a daily basis, we deal with waste every time we eat, drink, shower, dress…
The Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), alongside many other agencies and initiatives, publishes tips on how to reduce waste and how to make better use of it. According to the US EPA (2021), municipal waste has been increasing constantly in the past decades and how consumers should improve their consumption and recycling practices. The mentioned flourishing initiatives target consumers’ awareness and behavior. Dino et al., (2020) believe that empowering sustainable consumption through recycling is one direction to get a greener economy and work towards a brighter and wealthier future, a future of fulfilled SDGs.
Plastics don’t comply with being irremediable waste and they can be reused for different options and products. On the one hand, it can represent a reusable and functional resource and some of the success stories tell how plastic can be recycled, such as Terracycle creating “Zero Waste Boxes” for people to throw out waste there. These post-consumption practices have their corresponding production goals as the “Net-Zero Emission scenario” for the energy sector, pursued by the International Energy Agency (IEA). On the other hand, plastic products end up in marine water and pollute the environment, having created the so-called “Seventh continent” in the Pacific Ocean. It is not only big factories and enterprises that create these vast amounts of plastic, but the citizens that throw the packaging of cookies or a piece of gum to the street.
Throughout our conversations we have become more aware of how we can make an impact for the environment and work towards the specific targets that SDG 12 pursues. We are consumers on a daily basis, and therefore, we generate waste at the same pace as we consume. Living in the contemporary consumerist world we need to be responsible for our consumption and waste best practices. We want to engage with these local initiatives and make people more aware of the changes that need to be done.
In regard to recycling and waste, the media and news emphasize on the serious consequences of phone batteries containing lithium and cobalt in landfills. Littering and recycling are everyday choices such as throwing out a piece of gum to the bin or the packaging of a sandwich to the plastic container in university. Sometimes we are not aware of the fact that our small actions have a big impact on the environment worldwide.
We have felt a little bit responsible for our actions regarding recycling because we know we have the means to recycle but misuse our opportunities. In fact, after reading and understanding all the initiatives, not one of us remained indifferent. You realize it is not true that there are only a few who care about the environment or neither a marginal eco-friendly activity. On the contrary: we became aware of this reality as an urgency that worries many people, both as producers and as consumers. We are the present consumers, but the future producers and we need to take action now.
Specifically, the textile sector has astonished us, not only on the waste generated by producing, but also for the process of recycling and reusing textile fibers, as Pure Waste tries to do. We live in developed nations where buying a T-shirt is as easy and sometimes as cheap as buying a soda. Social media influencers, fashion trends and brands influence and determine our preferences and our wardrobes. We could not imagine how much water was used to produce a basic T-shirt and how many are thrown out, without even being given to charity. We shared some insights on giving away clothes to charities like “Cáritas” and congratulated the positive impact these practices have. Furthermore, we want to take action in terms of reducing our clothes consumption and buy them when we actually need them, rather than when clothes are on sale or a new garment just came to the market. We do not want our future to be “on sale”.
In the same way as textiles, we were greatly impacted by the great effort that many other producers, such as farmers, dedicate. There are already many companies that have invested a large part of their resources in producing in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. We were surprised by the “Holistic Management” that the company OVIS XXI intends to implement in its rural activity, a production technique through which it is possible to double the economic profitability of the fields and, in turn, without damaging the ecosystem from the regeneration of the pasture.
We actually engaged in a dialogue with the farmers. From our point of view, as consumers, we demand a lot from farmers in terms of higher production, better quality or better food appearance, but they do not stop repeating to us how important it is to eat healthy, fresh and without added chemical components. Personally, we were very shocked by the phrase “we are what we eat” -originally pronounced by the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach-, which was uttered by one of those companies. It was very convincing to us when it came to understanding what a responsible consumption of the food we eat on a daily basis refers to. Many times, we are not aware that the most important thing is to eat well and healthy, while being careful with the environment, since they are not two incompatible concepts at all. In fact, as AguapA does, many farmers dedicate part of these efforts in educating both his co-workers and the final consumer, in order to inform about the risks that the ingestion of foods with high additives and pesticides entails for health, as well as the damage that these chemicals represent for the ecosystem. We clearly trust that a more educated consumer base always makes more conscious and environmentally friendly decisions regarding the products they consume. In the end, we learned to empathize with these farmers, to stop looking for our personal interests, and to start valuing them for what they really achieve for our lives, something that we often overlook.
Our discussions varied from one topic to another, from one person to another and from one country to another. But despite our differences, we found some common worries and goals. And it was again remarkable, the great interrelation between goal 12 and the subsequent improvement in the other SDGs (mainly 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 14), as well as so many other positive social attitudes, such as efficiency, education and collaboration among producers and consumers. SDG 12 opens the door for varied discussions and the stories were also different from each other because each one of them focused on a different target of SDG 12, developed by the United Nations. It actually channels all companies to become businesses for social goods, and the first push should be provided by the consumer, by everyone involucrated.
Our work as a distributed team
In this part of the report we want to talk about how we have worked as a group, a multicultural group at the same time as a group that shares a culture. Human culture. Learning culture. Youth culture. We share more than what tears us apart, and we have discovered these commonalities through the discussions on the SDGs and by talking about us, our backgrounds, universities, failies, countries…
This project has set some challenges for us, but we believe that we have also achieved some successes when it comes to understanding the causes of these difficulties and getting to fruitful discussions and results.
Looking back at the experience, we conclude this report by saying we have improved in our skills to manage groups and to be managed within a group, to better manage time and risks, to engage with different topics we did not know about before, to research, to open to different people and improve our public speaking skills and abilities to communicate and to speak in English, which was not the first language for any of us. These experiences and improvements have made it easier to work together as a team. Firstly, based on our experience of working with people from all over the world, we experienced it to be a bit challenging, not because of our backgrounds, but specially due to the fact that each of us had their own schedules and the different time zones made scheduling meetings even harder. Furthermore, and having appreciated the incredible efforts put into the project , we believe that the initiative could take a step further and organize a live session or projects so that we, and more people that do not know yet about flourishing business, can engage with the topics and initiatives. We would have loved to have a live meeting as fun and knowledgeable as the ones on zoom.
Whatsmore, we discussed a lot of our topics in our whatsapp group. We chose to create one in addition to having the weekly meetings in order to schedule them in the first place and we considered that a whatsapp group allowed us to discuss some low-threshold matters instantly. However, the responses were not instant at all times due to the two time zones that we were working from. Eventually, we correctly managed to have all the meetings and meet all the required deadlines.
Our group meetings were sometimes informal, as we were becoming more colleagues than just random people that had to meet once a week. It is too soon to consider us to be friends, but we think these kinds of projects are the first step to work towards a generation with friends and contacts all around the globe. People that share the same tastes, initiatives, curiosities… Amicia in all continents and time zones.
Despite the informality, we were very effective in our work and managed to reach our goals in every meeting. In the beginning of our discussions we never talked a lot about cultural topics but we did cover some of them in the later meetings. We evolved from the content of the discussions and what we discussed and shared with each other, reaching a fruitful result. In the last meeting, we had an eye-opening discussion regarding global issues from the different perspectives that each of us brought to the table. We found it really interesting.
Eventually, working as a group with people from Indonesia, Finland and Spain has taught us a lot of things through this process and we take a lot of knowledge home. It is through projects like A2F when we get out of our comfort zone, become aware of the richness that different people and cultures have to offer us and we wake up the curiosity to travel abroad, not only for leisure but for internships, jobs volunteering projects or even to just meet the people we got to know from this project. However, in this way we also handled some cross cultural differences in our meetings, discussion and interactions during the completion of this report.
We learned that there are multiple official languages spoken in our countries and how geographics have affected each country. For example, Indonesia has fragmented geography that makes building unity as well as transporting goods and people challenging. Additionally, Finland has been part of the Swedish and Russian regime before, and the indigenous Sami people are spread to Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. Furthermore, we share an experience of our home countries ruling business rules over indegenous people or minorities rights.
Overall, the most important thing is working as a group with people from different countries has taught us a lot of things. We can proudly say that we are a great team that managed to solve the issues that we faced and fulfill our goals. We laughed like we had never done before in a zoom, we connected with each other, we learned from each other, we did a wide research on Sustainable Development Goals and specially on SDG 12 and we look forward to seeing a change from us and from society right now. Would you join us?
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