Summer 2021 United Nations (UN) released a report in cooperation with the Bertelsmann Foundation where Finland was ranked first in UN Sustainable development comparison of 160 countries. The comparison measured countries’ progress on implementing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which included Responsible Consumption and Production as the 12th SDG.
European Union (EU) has also mainstreamed sustainable development into a broad range of its policies and has set its sustainable production policies by EU Sustainable Development Strategy and Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP).
Technologies should be decoupled from pollution in order to promote sustainability goals. This includes development of technology platforms and technology verification networks. Sustainable consumption is a priority in these strategies. The Europe 2020 strategy also highlights these principles. The core content of ETAP is to support economic growth and social cohesion alongside environmental quality.
Finland is doing good, but still needs to do better
Finland was ranked number one in the recent UN report with an overall index score of 85.9, which suggests that Finland is 86 percent of the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 SDGs.
Even though Finland has achieved or is close to achieving the SDGs related to poverty alleviation, health, education, water, energy, reducing inequality etc., its greatest challenges have been the need for more sustainable consumption and production patterns, and climate action.
In Finland, the carbon footprint of an average person is 10,300 kg, which is fairly high despite the current sustainability efforts. We need to reduce it by half. In addition, households in Finland waste 120-160 million kilograms of food, roughly 20-25 kilograms per person each year.
UN states that each year almost one third of all food produced, i.e.1.3 billion tonnes gets wasted and ends up in the garbage bins. A lot still needs to be done in this regard if we are to fight climate change.
Sustainable production goals and implementation of strategies
EU has defined its goals in Package in Circular Economy (2015). Technological change is researched by comparing different technological options and socio-economic change is analysed by socio-economic models. Industrial production causes major problems of pollution. This is managed by the Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/IED/75/EU.
Sustainable Product Policies are implemented by methods as EU Ecolabel, Green Public Procurement, Eco-design of Energy Related Products and Energy Label. The European Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Bureau monitors industrial best practices, which it does by producing reference documents on Best Available Techniques, BREFs.
EU member states have to take all above mentioned into consideration, when they issue operating permits. BREF emphasizes best practices concerning resource use, residues and by-product reuse and recycling as well as waste generation and management.
The path forward to a sustainable future
We need to ensure a sustainable future for ourselves as well as the future generations. To begin with, we need to progress from the path of business as usual to that of sustainable development.
The old path continues to increase the greenhouse gas emissions and runs mainly on fossil fuels. Whereas the new path adopts innovative technologies and switches to renewable energy sources, and thus, aims not only at economic growth but also social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
If we apply ourselves to the study and design of new sustainable business practices and technologies, sustainable development will become feasible and affordable. In addition, big businesses also need to instill a frugal mindset, strive to do more with less and make sensible choices.
Furthermore, by increasing the circularity of materials in the economy, the companies can significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and decrease the need for resource extraction. By shifting towards a circular economy, companies can not only reduce the environmental problems, but also provide numerous economic and social benefits.
Lastly, we should aim to become ethical consumers and consume products that are not harmful to the environment or society. By switching to more plant-based diets, public transportation, renewable energy sources, and sustainable clothing brands and by reducing food waste, recycling and re-using the products, we can contribute to waste reduction.
As lecturers at a Higher Educational Institution, we have a responsibility to teach and raise awareness on both ethical consumption and sustainable business practices.
- Calleja Medrano, I. & Delgado Sancho, L. 2008. European Environmental Technologies Action Plan. Journal of Cleaner Production 16 (1S1). p. 181-183.
- European Union Sustainable Action Plan 2009.
- European Union Environmental Technologies Action Plan 2010.
- European Union 2020 Strategy.
- Industrial Emissions Directive 2010/IED/75/EU.
- Natural Resources Institute Finland, 2016. Food waste and circular economy of food system.
- Sachs, J. et al. 2021. Sustainable Development Report 2021. The Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, 1–505.
- Sitra, 2018. Carbon footprint of the average Finn.