SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Sustainable Development Goal 12 encourages more sustainable consumption and production patterns through various measures, including specific policies and international agreements on the management of materials that are toxic to the environment. Their implementation will help to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.

Sustainable consumption and production include the promotion of resource and energy efficiency, of sustainable infrastructure and providing access to basic services, as well as the creation of green and decent jobs to ensure a better quality of life for all.

Sustainable growth and development require minimizing the natural resources and toxic materials used, and the waste and pollutants generated, throughout the entire production and consumption process. It is necessary to continue to address challenges regarding air, water and soil pollution.

Since sustainable consumption and production aims at “doing more and better with less”, net welfare gains from economic activities can increase by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole life cycle, while increasing quality of life.

There also needs to be significant focus on operating on supply chain, involving everyone from producer to final consumer. This includes educating consumers on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing them with adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement, among others.

Material footprint

The material footprint is an accounting of fossil fuels and other raw materials extracted globally and used in a particular country. It reflects the amount of primary materials required to meet a country’s needs and can be interpreted as an indicator of the material standard of living or level of capitalization of an economy.

From 2000 to 2010, the material footprint per GDP of developed regions dropped as a result of greater efficiency in industrial processes. But at 23.6 kilograms per unit of GDP in 2010, it was still substantially higher than the figure for developing regions at 14.5 kilograms per unit of GDP.

As developing countries industrialized, the material footprint of the regions as a whole grew over this 10-year period. Non-metallic minerals showed the largest increase, rising from 5.3 to 6.9 kilograms per unit of GDP. This component represents almost half the material footprint of developing regions.

Material consumption

Domestic material consumption measures the total amount of materials used in economic processes. It is defined as the annual quantity of raw materials extracted from the domestic territory, plus all physical imports and minus all physical exports. It includes intermediate and final consumption until released to the environment.

Domestic material consumption per capita declined slightly in developed regions, from 17.5 metric tons per capita in 2000 to 15.3 metric tons per capita in 2010. However, it remained 72% higher than the value for developing regions, which stood at 8.9 metric tons per capita in 2010. Domestic material consumption per capita increased in almost all developing regions over this period, except in sub-Saharan Africa, where it remained relatively stable, and Oceania, where it decreased from 10.7 to 7.7 metric tons per capita.

The dramatic rise in the consumption per capita of raw materials in Asia, particularly Eastern Asia, during this period is primarily due to rapid industrialization.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Whenever we think of production, the country which probably comes to our mind is China, that has become the factory of the world. “Made in China” labels are omnipresent.

China is a huge country with many faces. Factories are known to be located in Guandong province, and one of the cities there is Dongguan. This city itself is sometimes called “the world’s factory” due to its prosperous manufacturing industry.

Introduction to Dongguan

In 2018, the great majority of its population, 75%, are migrant workers and among these, women also play an essential role.

Factory girls, China’s female factory workers, often outnumber their male counterparts. Dongguan was known for having a higher number of women workers and these were in high demand and short supply in 2013.

Dongguan is also considered one of the homes of Cantonese culture, and particularly Cantonese Opera, appearing together with Kungqu and Beijing Opera on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.