Introduction

The term “material consumption” refers to all the materials used by an economy in a specific timeframe. Imagine the size of worldwide material consumption, such as all the food, metal, fossil fuels, and minerals it takes to create every new product. In 2017, global material consumption reached 92.1 billion tons, and it’s projected to grow to 190 billion tons by 2060. As the world’s material consumption increases, so does the over-extraction and degradation of natural resources. To address this problem, the United Nations, or the UN, created Sustainable Development Goal 12.

The Goal 

SDG 12 aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Targets and Indicators 

There are eight targets, or subgoals, that need to be met to achieve SDG 12. One target is to have every country start consuming and producing more sustainably, with a specific plan laid out in the UN’s ten-year framework of programs. Other targets aim to ensure countries start using natural resources in a more sustainable fashion that still suits their needs and to slash global food waste per person in half by 2030.

There are also indicators, or specific statistics, to gauge these targets’ progress. For example, material footprints per person will decrease as we learn to manage resources sustainably. Hazardous waste per person and the global food loss index will also decrease as pollution and global food waste per person decline. 

What’s Already Being Done

Unfortunately, from 2010 to 2017, the global material footprint rose 17.4 percent, and global domestic material consumption per capita rose seven percent. From 2010 to 2019, global e-waste generation, waste from electronics and technology, grew continuously, while environmentally friendly recycling of e-waste declined. While progress is being made, the world is not on track to meet all the goals of SDG 12 by 2030.

However, various organizations and individuals are making headway. One activist who pushed for the environmentally sound management of waste, one of SDG 12’s main targets, was Dr. Benjamin Chavis. Dr. Benjamin Chavis drew attention to the fact that many unsafe waste disposals are situated in low-income communities of color, historically disenfranchised and most vulnerable to environmental hazards. Alongside two members of the Congressional Black Caucus, or CBC, Joseph Lowery and Walter Fauntroy, he led a month-long protest in 1982 of a chemical landfill in Warren County, North Carolina. He also coined the term environmental racism, which describes how environmental hazards disproportionately affect people of color. Other members of the CBC, inspired by his activism, pushed the government to recognize environmental racism. 

Applying It: How Everyone Can Help

Though governments and organizations need to take decisive action to meet SDG 12, you can help too. Turn off the lights, walk or bike instead of driving, unplug unused appliances, try to air-dry clothes, convert to solar energy, and use rugs and close windows to avoid overusing heating. Shop locally and try to thrift and resell clothing. Continue to stay informed and spread awareness. Though small, these steps can help the world achieve SDG 12!

    Learn More

    1. Environmental Justice History, African American Voices in Congress, www.avoiceonline.org/environmental/history.html.
    2. “Goal 12 .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” United Nations, United Nations, sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg12.
    3. Reichart, Elizabeth, and Deborah Drew. “By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of ‘Fast Fashion.’” World Resources Institute, World Resources Institute, 10 Jan. 2019, www.wri.org/blog/2019/01/numbers-economic-social-and-environmental-impacts-fast-fashion.
    4. “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World – United Nations Sustainable Development.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/takeaction/.

    Think Further

    1. What is one thing you personally can do to be a more responsible consumer?
    2. Fast-fashion, which creates cheap clothes that people will quickly discard, is one industry that contributes to excessive waste. Can you name another industry that increases the world’s material footprint?
    3. Think of one way increased material consumption jeopardizes another SDG, or name a social issue related to sustainability.

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