SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production is Finland’s Achilles Heel

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SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production is Finland’s Achilles Heel


The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a global blueprint for a world where every individual and nation is free to fulfil their needs and potential  – both now and in the future.

This is what goal number 12 aims for as well: our consumption of natural resources should be proportionate to their capacity for renewal, without degrading that capacity. This means rethinking our consumption habits, waste management and even environmental legislation. 

All these are included in one of the biggest sustainability buzzwords of the past decade, circular economy, a concept that replaces the traditional “take-make-dispose” approach with that of “reduce-reuse-recycle”. Although never explicitly mentioned in the original Agenda2030, the end of over-consumption and adoption of a more circular economic model seems to be the best bet for western societies to achieve their SDG12 targets.


Psst! Circular economy is such a big and revolutionary concept that we’ll be doing a separate post on it later – stay tuned!


Like all sustainable development goals, the SDG 12 includes a set of targets and one or two indicators to follow the progress made on each of them. In the case of SDG 12, the organization responsible for monitoring these targets is the One Planet Network, which publishes regular (depressing) progress reports. 

There have, however, been major challenges in keeping tabs on each target. Indicators have been added and fine-tuned on multiple occasions, while the methodology for measuring most indicators still hasn’t been globally standardized. This, of course, raises questions on how comparable results are between countries, or even from one year to the next.


Some of the targets for SDG 12 include:

  • 12.3 By 2030, halve per capita global food waste
  • 12.4 By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes -> we failed this one 🙁
  • 12.5 By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation
  • 12.6 Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices
  • 12.7 Promote sustainable public procurement practices


Are we there yet?

Not even close. Even though in many areas, such as in eliminating poverty and improving gender equality, the global community has taken great strides forward, we keep moving ever further away from sustainable consumption.

Every year humankind uses more natural resources than the year before: in 2017 we consumed 92.1 billion tons of material, while in 2015 the same number was 87 billion and in 1970 only 27 billion.

Yet, a ray of hope appeared in the 2018 One Planet Review of SDG 12 progress: for all of human history the world economy had been dependent on an ever-increasing use of natural resources, until for the first time in 2018 signs of decoupling started to appear. The amount of material required to produce 1 US dollar’s worth of value was 1.1 kilograms, compared to 1.2 kilograms in 2017; an 8% drop.



Sustainable consumption is Finland’s weak spot

Overall, in terms of sustainable development as a whole, Finland is doing great. On SDSN’s scale of 0 to 100, we score 82.2, placing third just behind Denmark and Sweden. Zooming in on sustainable consumption, though, our score falls to 48.7.

On SDG 12 we place behind countries such as Sudan and Papua New Guinea. As illustrated by the map below, practically all industrialized countries share our struggle; a high GDP tends to correlate with poor performance on consumption indicators. The convoluted relationship of GDP and sustainable development will, however, not be explored in this post.


Progress towards sustainable consumption and production; Finland, along with most industrialized countries, glows red.

Areas of particular concern for Finland are our net imported SO² emissions and the amount of e-waste generated per capita. Although not explicitly mentioned in recent reports, general overconsumption is also exacerbating every aspect of our consumption troubles. Finland’s Overshoot Day, the calendric representation of how fast we consume our fair share of the world’s resources, has in recent years fallen in early April, occurring earlier each year.

In a word, much remains to be done. That is why the UN Youth of Finland will use this SDG 12 theme year to further the sustainability agenda on our part!


SDG12 is in the air

This year there will be a touch of sustainable consumption in everything we do: In the Youth Peace Week in September, we will take a look at the role of sustainable consumption and production in peace and conflict along with other topical issues in conflict resolution. 


Not a Finnish speaker? No problem! As a part of the Youth Peace Week we’ll host a webinar on SDG12 issues in conflicts – fully in English!


We’re also working towards becoming a Carbon Smart association, and will calculate our carbon footprint again just as we did last year – challenging our partners to do the same as well! We’ll also formulate and publish our Commitment2050, as well as brand new internal guidelines for SDG12 aligned consumption practices that will keep the UN Youth of Finland on the right path even after the theme year.

To increase awareness of SDG12 in the wider society, we’ll be making noise in the media as well. We will continue to participate actively in the public discussion on sustainability issues both online and offline, with a special focus on sustainable consumption and production. 

This post will also kick off a series of SDG12 themed blog posts, each delving deeper into a specific aspect of sustainable consumption, offering practical advice on how you can further the SDG12 whether you’re an interested individual, head of a youth organization or anything else!


Sneak peek: the next post will discuss carbon compensations – 21st century indulgences or useful tools on our way to sustainability?


Highlight: a seminar on sustainable consumption transitions at Oodi

On the 25th of October, we will gather in Oodi with an exciting panel of experts from all sectors of the society: decision-makers from the municipal and state level will meet business and civil society representatives to discuss how we’ll make sustainable consumption a reality. Who is responsible for what, what kind of innovations do we already have just waiting to take off, who might need more support from whom? Drop by for a roadmap to sustainable consumption!

More info will be posted in our social media closer to the event – follow us to stay posted on this and other cool sustainability events coming up!

Heidi Annala

Coordinator of Sustainable Consumption for the UN Youth of Finland