SDG 12 - Responsible consumption and production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Data extracted in May 2020.
Planned article update: June 2021.
This article provides an overview of statistical data on SDG 12 ‘Responsible consumption and production’ in the European Union (EU). It is based on the set of EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an EU context.
This article is a part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2020 edition’. This report is the fourth edition of Eurostat’s series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.
Responsible consumption and production in the EU: overview and key trends
Monitoring SDG 12 in an EU context focuses on developments in the areas of: decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth; the green economy; and waste generation and management. As Table 1 shows, the EU has made some progress towards decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth, increasing the value added from green products and services, and managing waste. However, waste generation as well as the consumption of toxic chemicals have increased over the past few years and average CO2 emissions from new cars are not falling fast enough to meet the target.
Decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth
Economic growth improves people’s well-being but has long been associated with growing resource and energy consumption. Increasing consumption can harm the environment and contributes to climate change. To tackle this challenge, the EU has launched a new growth strategy — the European Green Deal — that aims to transform the EU into a fair and prosperous climate-neutral society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where economic growth is decoupled from resource use . It focuses on improving resource- and energy-use efficiency by restructuring economies so they produce more from the same resource and energy inputs.
The EU’s progress in this area is monitored by four indicators. Two look at the ratio of resource use (materials and energy) to gross domestic product (GDP) while the other two look at the harmful environmental impacts of consumption of toxic chemicals and CO2 emissions related to transport.
Resource and energy productivity has increased considerably over the past 15 years
Resource productivity  and energy productivity  directly monitor how much output (in terms of GDP) an economy produces per unit of used materials or energy. Between 2003 and 2018, the EU increased its resource productivity by 29.6 % (from EUR 1.48 per kg to EUR 1.92 per kg) and its energy productivity by 31.4 %, (from EUR 6.2 per kilogram of oil equivalent (kgoe) in 2003 to EUR 8.1 per kgoe in 2018). These trends can be attributed to the growth of the EU economy alongside reductions in domestic material consumption (DMC) and gross available energy (GAE). Over the period 2003 to 2018, the EU economy grew (in terms of GDP) by 23.4 % , while GAE fell by 6.0 %  and DMC fell by 4.8 %.
The observed trends, however, need to be interpreted with caution, as they might not be entirely due to the success of environmental policies. It is likely that the drop in DMC from 2008 onwards was strongly influenced by the economic crisis. Since the beginning of economic recovery in 2013, DMC has increased by 6.8 %. However, despite the recent increase, in 2018 total DMC was still 15.1 % lower than in 2007, the year before the economic crisis began. This development was mostly caused by ups and downs in construction activities, which account for the lion's share of total material use but contribute, in relative terms, much less to the EU economy .
Consumption of toxic chemicals have fallen moderately in the long and the short terms
Most everyday products used by businesses and consumers are produced with the help of chemicals. This makes them a significant contributor to the EU economy, with sales worth EUR 565 billion in 2018 . The consumption of chemicals provides benefits to society, but can also entail risks to the environment and human health. Risk depends on both the hazard presented by the chemicals and the exposure to them. Tracking the consumption volumes of industrial chemicals that are hazardous to human and environmental health is, therefore, used as a proxy for human exposure .
In 2018, 220.7 million tonnes of toxic chemicals were consumed in the EU. Since 2004, the total consumption of toxic chemicals has declined by 8.8 %. However, this trend has reversed over the past five years and consumption increased by 1.9 % between 2013 and 2018.
The decline in average CO2 emissions per km for newly registered passenger cars has stalled in recent years
In 2017, cars were responsible for around 14 % of total EU-28 emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas . To reduce the negative impact of passenger cars on the environment, the EU has set mandatory targets for fleet-wide average emissions of new passenger cars of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre in 2015 and 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre in 2021 . For each manufacturer’s new car fleet, a specific emission target is set according to the average mass of its new vehicles, in such a way that the above overall targets for the EU’s average fleet emissions are met.
Average CO2 emissions per km from new passenger cars in the EU have fallen by 5.4 % since 2013, reaching 119.6 grams of CO2 per km in 2018. While the 2015 target has been met two years early, a recent slowdown in emission reductions has been observed since 2015 and in 2018 average emissions even increased by 1.6 grams of CO2 per km as compared to 2017. This means that further progress will be needed to reach the 2021 target set at 95 grams of CO2 per km.
It should also be noted that under real-world driving conditions, new passenger cars in the EU in 2015 emitted on average around 40 % more than in the laboratory . In recognition of these shortcomings, in September 2017 the EU introduced the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP), which should yield more realistic CO2 emission values . The new emission targets for 2025 and 2030 have been set on the basis of the WLTP emission values.
Growing the share of the green economy can also help to decouple environmental impacts from economic growth. The environmental goods and services sector (EGSS) is the part of the economy engaged in producing goods and services that are used in environmental protection activities and resource management. Such goods and services can include, for example, products to prevent, measure, control, limit, minimise or correct environmental damage and resource depletion. Increasing the market share of green technologies in the EU can have important socio-economic benefits in terms of value added and employment . The recently adopted EU industrial strategy  aims to make industry greener and more digital.
Strong growth in value added has been recorded in the environmental goods and services sector over the past 15 years
Over the last 15 years, the gross value added in the EGSS has grown by 57.9 % in the EU, from EUR 169.9 billion in 2002 to EUR 268.1 billion in 2017. This can be attributed to growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, as well as an increase in spending on green infrastructure . In relation to the whole economy, the gross value added in the EGSS grew from 1.7 % of GDP in 2002 to 2.2 % in 2017. Over the same period, employment (in full-time equivalent) in the EGSS increased by 18.6 % and reached nearly 4.1 million employees in 2017 .
Waste generation and management
Production and consumption patterns characterised by products being made, used and disposed of in an accelerated fashion are not sustainable. Reducing both the input of materials and the output of wastes by closing economic and ecological loops of resource flows is the essence of a circular economy. Waste should be seen as a resource and more recycling would put materials back in the economy and ensure they are kept in circulation to preserve the value embedded in them. Therefore, the EU aims to move towards a circular economy where materials and resources are kept in the economy for as long as possible, and waste is minimised.
In the short term, the waste generation has increased, while the circular material use rate has stagnated
In 2016, 786 million tonnes of waste, excluding major mineral waste, were generated in the EU, which corresponds to 1 765 kilograms (kg) of waste per inhabitant . 7.5 % of the generated waste (excluding major mineral wastes) — corresponding to 132 kg per resident — was hazardous to health or the environment . When not managed sustainably, all of this waste could have a huge impact on the environment, causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as significant losses of materials . Over the long-term period, the EU has decreased the amount of waste, excluding major mineral waste, generated per capita by 1.9 % between 2004 and 2016. The short-term trend, however, has not been favourable, with the figure increasing by 2.6 % between 2012 and 2016.
Between 2004 and 2017, the EU circular material use (CMU) rate — indicating the share of used materials that came from collected waste — increased from 8.2 % to 11.2 % but has stagnated around this level since 2012.
Data for the recycling of waste excluding major mineral wastes show that 56 % of waste in the EU was recycled in 2016 . The difference between this relatively high end-of-life recycling rate and the CMU rate (11.2 % in 2017) may seem surprising at first sight. However, the comparatively low degree of circularity in the EU can be attributed to two structural barriers. First, a large fraction of these materials is used to build and maintain buildings, infrastructure and other long-life goods and is not readily available for recycling. A second barrier is the large amount of material used to generate energy. For these materials, in particular for fossil fuels, closing the loop is hardly possible and the high share of these materials keeps the degree of circularity low .
Consumption and production patterns have wide environmental impacts. Sustainable production and consumption patterns use resources efficiently, respect resource constraints and reduce pressures on natural capital to increase overall well-being, keep the environment clean and healthy, and safeguard the needs of future generations. The rise in living standards and quality of life in Europe since the end of World War II has been made possible through increases in income, production and consumption, which so far have gone hand in hand with more resource extraction and growing pressures on natural capital (air, water, land and biodiversity) and the climate. Since we live on a planet with finite and interconnected resources, the rate at which they are used has relevant implications for today's prosperity and lasting effects on future generations. It is thus important for the EU to decouple economic growth and the improvement of living standards from resource use and the eventual negative environmental impacts. This involves increasing the circularity of materials in the economy, thereby reducing both the need for resource extraction and the amount of waste ending up in landfills or incineration. It also means safe management of chemicals and shifting away from carbon-intensive energy carriers towards sustainably produced renewable energy sources. Such an approach would not only reduce environmental pressures, but also provide major economic benefits.
More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2020 edition’.
Further reading on responsible consumption and production
- EEA (2019), The European environment — state and outlook 2020. Chapter 9 – Waste and resources in a circular economy, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
- EEA (2016), More from less — material resource efficiency in Europe, EEA Report No 10/2016, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
- EEA (2019), Paving the way for a circular economy: insights on status and potentials, EEA Report No 11/2019, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
- EEA (2019), Preventing Plastic Waste in Europe, EEA Report No 2/2019, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
- EEA (2017), Circular by design — Products in the circular economy, EEA Report No 6/2017, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen.
- UNEP (2017), Resource Efficiency: Potential and Economic Implications. A report of the International Resource Panel.
- European Commission (2016), Green growth for jobs and prosperity in the EU: report of the European Commission expert group ‘R&I policy framework for green growth & jobs’, Luxembourg.
- Haas, W., Krausmann, F., Wiedenhofer, D., Heinz, M. (2015), How Circular is the Global Economy?: An Assessment of Material Flows, Waste Production, and Recycling in the European Union and the World in 2005, in Journal of Industrial Ecology, October 2015, Vol.19(5), pp.765–777.
- United Nations Environment Programme (2019), Global Chemicals Outlook II. From Legacies to Innovative Solutions: Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- European Commission (2019), The European Green Deal, COM(2019) 640 final, Brussels.
- Resource productivity is defined as GDP per unit of domestic material consumption (DMC), measured in EUR per kilogram. Part of these materials is directly consumed by households, which means they are not used as an input to production activities. Thus, resource productivity is not directly comparable to concepts such as labour or capital productivity.
- Energy productivity is defined as GDP per unit of gross inland energy consumption, measured in EUR per kg of oil equivalent. Part of the energy considered is consumed by households, which means it is not used as an input to production activities. Thus, energy productivity is not directly comparable to concepts such as labour or capital productivity. Note that the indicator's inverse is energy intensity.
- Source: Eurostat (nama_10_gdp).
- Source: Eurostat (nrg_bal_s).
- European Environment Agency (2016), More from less — material resource efficiency in Europe. 2015 overview of policies, instruments and targets in 32 countries, EEA report No 10/2016, p. 38.
- The European Chemical Industry Council (2020), Facts and Figures of the European Chemical Industry 2020, p. 12.
- European Environment Agency (2019), Consumption of hazardous chemicals.
- European Commission (2019), EU Transport in figures — Statistical pocketbook 2019, p. 154.
- European Parliament and Council of the European Union (2009), Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 setting emission performance standards for new passenger cars as part of the Community's integrated approach to reduce CO 2 emissions from light-duty vehicles, as amended by Regulation (EU) No 333/2014.
- Tietge, U. et al. (2016), From Laboratory to Road — A 2016 update of official and ‘real world‘ fuel consumption and CO2 values for passenger cars in Europe, International Council on Clean Transportation.
- European Commission (2017), European Commission recommendation 2017/948 of 31 May 2017 on the use of fuel consumption and CO2 emission values type-approved and measured in accordance with the World Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure when making information available for consumers pursuant to Directive 1999/94/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council.
- European Environment Agency (2019), Environmental Goods and Services Sector: employment and value added.
- European Commission (2020), A New Industrial Strategy for Europe, COM(2020) 102 final, Brussels.
- European Environment Agency (2019), Environmental Goods and Services Sector: employment and value added.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_ac_egss1)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasgen)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasgen)).
- European Commission (2010), Being wise with waste: the EU’s approach to waste management, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasoper))
- Haas, W., Krausmann, F., Wiedenhofer, D., Heinz, M. (2015), How Circular is the Global Economy?: An Assessment of Material Flows, Waste Production, and Recycling in the European Union and the World in 2005, in Journal of Industrial Ecology, October 2015, Vol.19(5), pp. 765-777.