An event organized by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Government of Switzerland explored the challenges and opportunities presented by the need to transition towards sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Business leaders, policy makers and civil society organizations highlighted actions that can be taken across sectors to decouple economic growth and a good life from resource extraction and environmental impacts.
18 July 2018: An event convened in the margins of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on the theme ‘SDG 12: Transforming Consumption and Production Globally’ considered strategies for achieving sustainable lifestyles, as called for by SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production).
Organized by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and hosted at the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN, the event discussed how companies have advocated for and achieved results on reducing impacts on consumption and production patterns.
In his opening remarks, Dominique Kohli, Switzerland’s Federal Office for Agriculture, expressed concern that linkages between stakeholders are opaque. He noted that although there needs to be a shift away from business-as-usual, the challenge of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) is too complex to be addressed by any one entity, and actors that do not traditionally work together need to coalesce around SDG 12 within a “robust enabling environment.” Kohli highlighted the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP) as a key platform for engagement that can help foster such collaborations.
Filippo Veglio, WBCSD, described the SDGs as a “North star,” providing common, universal “languages” for businesses and other stakeholders alike. He noted the role of SDG 12 as a balancing of social progress and environmental challenges, quoting an Innove report titled, ‘Business and the Sustainable Development Goals: A guide for getting started,’ which visualizes the SDGs as a network with Goal 12 at the center. James Gomme, WBCSD, said businesses can play a role in circular supplies, resource recovery, product life extension, sharing platforms, and providing products as a service. He added that WBCSD has identified eight business cases for the circular economy, relating to: accelerating growth, enhancing competitiveness and mitigating risk.
Radical shifts away from current practices are needed to meet the global temperature goals under the Paris Agreement.
On the production side, Jeff Turner, Royal DSM, and member of WBCSD’s Factor 10 project, underscored that “the chemical industry is in everything we touch.” For example, today’s mobile phones not only contain more than half the elements listed on the periodic table, but those materials primarily wind up as e-waste due to the difficulty of recovering them. Turner emphasized the need to “design from a materials perspective” and to ensure circularity at products’ end of life. He noted DSM’s Greener Grazers product, which reduces the amount of methane associated with meat production by 30-50% and offers a positive application of blockchain technology for supply chain traceability.
In terms of consumption, Gomme flagged that many people aspire to “the Good Life 1.0,” correlating to the American Dream of the 1950s in which everything is bigger, faster and stronger. Instead, he suggested using a “lighthouse vision” that articulates what people want and need to be sustainable, then working backwards to identify what companies can do to help achieve that vision.
Nollaig Forrest, Firmenich SA, similarly highlighted the importance of reframing and speaking to consumer preferences: moving from bigger to better consumption; from “living large” to being connected; and from driving solo to sharing journeys. She described her fragrance company’s transparency initiatives and its “ecoscent compass,” which serves as a tool for customers to “measure the footprint of your fragrance.” Forrest also noted that her company must perform in a low-impact environment, for example, by providing products to mask the scent of new or altered cleaning agents while also working with minimal, cold or reused water.
On engaging people in lifestyle shifts, Jessie MacNeil-Brown, The Body Shop International, outlined how the company has been mobilizing store teams and customers for a cruelty-free campaign. She noted that cruelty-free products are a selling point with millennials and conscious consumers.
Lewis Akenji, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), said the overall question to consider is whether society is reducing the amount of material consumed, and he called for radical shifts away from current practices. Estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he noted, require greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions down to a global average of one tonne emitted annually per capita by 2050, in order to meet the global temperature goals under the Paris Agreement on climate change. For some countries, this means reductions of up to 80-90%, he said. In achieving this transformation, Akenji flagged the importance of enabling “do-gooder” businesses to compete on the broader market, rather than working in niche areas or “at the periphery of the problem.” Governments, he said, need to play a facilitating role to create conditions for rapid change, where “first movers are not losers” and green businesses do not relinquish competitive edge to those who “greenwash.”
Akenji also presented an analysis of “power flows” in supply chains, rather than those of materials or goods. The results, or “power hotspots,” he noted, point to brand owners and retailers as having the strongest influence. He closed by outlining the determinants of sustainable lifestyles, underscoring the issue of “consumer scapegoatism” and stressing that changes need to come from the most powerful stakeholder (businesses) rather than the most visible (consumers). [SDG 12: Transforming Consumption and Production Globally Event Agenda] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]