Insights into the UNSDGs: Responsible consumption and production essential for the sustainability of future generations

The United Nations fresh water
Prof. Douglas BOATENG

Securing a sustainable future for generations is at the heart of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The future sustainability of planet Earth is under threat because of irresponsible consumption and production patterns. This issue has been highlighted by the United Nations. According to the UN

  • If current consumption and production patterns continue, the planet will need 183 billion tonnes of material annually by 2050. This is three times today’s amount and impossible to sustain.
  • Every year, 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our oceans. Over 40 million tonnes of electronic waste are generated (increasing annually by 4 to 5 per cent), causing severe damage to ecosystems, livelihoods and our health.
  • Pollution is the most significant environmental cause of disease and premature death globally, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 – 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide and three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
  • One-third of food produced every year is wasted, yet food security is a growing concern

Goal 12 of the UNSDGs focuses on ensuring sustainable consumption and production practices across the globe. The targets associated with this goal include:

  • 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.
  • By 2030, achieve sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources.
  • 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.
  • By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, per agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil to minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
  • By 2030, reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
  • Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.
  • Promote sustainable public procurement practices in accordance with national policies and priorities.
  • By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature.
  • Support developing countries to strengthen their scientific and technological capacity for sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  • Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
  • Rationalise inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions in accordance with national circumstances, including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies where they exist to reflect their environmental impacts, taking fully into account the specific needs and conditions of developing countries and minimising the possible adverse effects on their development in a manner that protects people experiencing poverty and the affected communities.

Despite these targets, unsustainable consumption and production patterns continue to impact social, environmental and economic ways of life.

According to the latest United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report (2022), “unsustainable consumption and production patterns are root causes of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.”

An overreliance on natural resources, food wastage, electronic waste management, and lagging renewable energy efforts continue to contribute to unsustainable practices and directly impact environmental degradation, human well-being and the realisation of SDG 12.

Reliance on natural resources continues to route an unsustainable course

Domestic material consumption – the measurement used to measure the materials an economy uses to meet the demands for goods and services – rose by more than 65 per cent globally between 2000 and 2019 “amounting to 95.1 billion metric tons in 2019. That translates to 12.3 tons per person,” Sustainable Development Goals Report (2022)

According to the Report, “the main drivers of this growth are increased population density, industrialisation and the outsourcing of material-intensive production from developed to developing countries.”

This “increased dependence on natural resources exacerbates the pressure on sensitive ecosystems and ultimately affects both human health and the economy” (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2022).

Food wastage is high – despite rising food insecurity

According to the Report, “In 2020, an estimated 13.3 per cent of the world’s food was lost after harvesting and before reaching retail markets. These losses occur during on-farm activities, transport, storage, processing and wholesaling.”

The Report further estimates that “17 per cent of total food available to consumers (931 million metric tons) is wasted at household, food service and retail levels, translating to 121 kilograms per person each year, with about 60 per cent of this waste occurring in households.”

These global problems happen worldwide, with food loss mostly occurring in developing countries, while food waste is higher in developed countries. It is noted that despite having the highest level of food insecurity, Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest level of food loss in the world.

In addition to the impact of food loss and waste on human well-being, it also affects the environment. Indeed, the Report notes that “both food loss and food waste have substantial environmental, social and economic consequences. For example, food in landfills generates 8 to 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions” (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2022).

Electronic waste is not being safely managed

E-waste has become a significant problem across the globe.

“When electrical and electronic equipment is discarded, it becomes part of a fast-growing waste stream containing valuable and hazardous materials. The rapid rise in this e-waste is driven by growing consumption, short product life cycles and minor repairs (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2022).

According to the Report, “In 2019, the amount of e-waste generated globally was 7.3 kilograms per capita, out of which only 1.7 kilograms was managed in an environmentally sound way.”

Developing countries tend to take the brunt of this waste as in “low- and middle-income countries, the necessary infrastructure has not yet been developed or is insufficient to manage the e-waste that is locally generated and illegally imported. Moreover, due to the lack of regulations in these countries, e-waste is managed mainly by the informal sector, usually in an unsafe way” (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2022).

For example, “used refrigerants…are emitted in the open air and valuable components are selectively dismantled or extracted by open burning and acid baths, polluting the environment and negatively affecting human health” (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2022).

Renewable energy lagging behind in disadvantaged countries

Although developing countries have seen significant improvements in their abilities to generate electricity from renewable sources, the Report notes that leased developed countries (LDC) and landlocked countries are falling behind.

It notes that “from 2015 to 2020, the compound annual growth rate of renewable energy in developing countries was 9.5 per cent versus 5.2 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respectively, for LDCs and landlocked developing countries. At current average annual growth rates, it would take these countries almost 40 years to reach the same progress that developing countries achieved in 2020” (Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2022).

In conclusion, attaining responsible consumption and production aligned with the corresponding SDG objectives is paramount and requires practical action and collaboration. Failure to “change habits” could jeopardise the sustainability of life on planet Earth for all. Ignoring the warning from the United Nations could be cataclysmic for future generations.

>>>The writer is an international chartered director and Africa’s first-ever appointed Professor Extraordinaire for Industrialisation and Supply Chain Governance. He is the CEO of PanAvest International and the founding non-executive chairman of MY-future YOUR-Future and OUR-Future (“MYO”) and the “thought-provoking” daily Nyansa Kasa(words of wisdom) series. Professor Boateng is currently the non-executive chairman of the Minerals Income and Investment Fund (MIIF). He was previously the non-executive chairman of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA). For more information on Nyansakasa, visit and



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