SDG 12 - Responsible consumption and production
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Data extracted in August 2018
Planned article update: September 2019
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 part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2018 edition’. This report is the second 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.
Goal 12 calls for a comprehensive set of actions from businesses, policy-makers, researchers and consumers to adapt to sustainable practices. It envisions sustainable production and consumption based on advanced technological capacity, resource efficiency and reduced global waste.
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, energy consumption, and waste generation and management. As Table 1 shows, the EU has made significant progress in virtually all three areas of consumption and production analysed in this article. However, progress in reducing energy consumption has slowed down over the past few years.
Decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth
Increases in economic activity have long been associated with growing resource and energy consumption. To allow for a continued improvement of living standards and quality of life without sacrificing the natural resource base they depend on, the EU strives to become a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy . Focus has therefore shifted to improving the efficiency of resource and energy use by restructuring economies towards producing more from the same resource and energy input. This is of particular relevance in view of a growing population and rising per-capita wealth, which may result in more overall resource consumption, despite an increase in resource efficiency. Such decoupling of economic growth from the consumption of natural resources should also go along with minimising harmful impacts on human health and the environment.
The EU’s progress in this area is monitored by four indicators. Two of them look at the ratio of resource use (materials and energy) to GDP, while the other two look at the harmful environmental impacts of consumption of toxic chemicals and emissions related to transport. Overall, these indicators show some progress over the past few years: the EU’s resource and energy productivity has risen, while consumption of hazardous chemicals has decreased and CO2 emissions from new cars have remained stable.
Productivity of resources and energy 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. Over the past 15 years, the EU has increased its resource productivity by 32.9 % (referring to the period 2002 to 2017), reaching EUR 2.04 per kg in 2017, and its energy productivity by 29.2 % (2001 to 2016), reaching EUR 8.4 per kgoe in 2016. These trends can be attributed to the growth of the EU economy, alongside reductions in domestic material consumption (DMC) and gross inland energy consumption (GIC). The EU economy grew (in terms of GDP) by 21.2 % and by 22.4 % over the periods 2001 to 2016 and 2002 to 2017, respectively . Over the same time spans, GIC fell by 7.2 % (from 2001 to 2016)  and DMC fell by 7.8 % (from 2002 to 2017).
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 very likely that the drop in DMC from 2008 onwards was strongly influenced by the economic crisis : following the onset of the crisis, the use of materials declined rapidly. In 2017, total DMC was 16.8 % lower than in 2007, the year before the start of the economic crisis. This development was mostly caused by the rapid slowdown 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 . Other economic or technical factors might also have affected the positive trend in resource productivity, including the long-term shift of the EU towards a service economy, globalisation, an increasing reliance on imports, and even the nature of the indicator itself . The latter refers to the fact that DMC does not include 'hidden' raw material flows, which are required to generate imports or exports but are not part of the imported and exported raw materials and products .
The consumed materials can be classified into two types: renewable materials, such as biomass, and non-renewable materials, such as fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals. Non-metallic minerals (marble, granite, sand, salt, etc.) are the largest category of materials, with a share of 47.7 % in total DMC in 2017. They are mainly used for building infrastructure such as roads, homes, schools and hospitals, and for producing many industrial and consumer products such as cars, computers, medicines and household appliances. Biomass is the second largest material (24.9 % in 2017), followed by fossil energy materials/carriers (22.3 %) and metal ores (4.9 %) .
Consumption of non-metallic minerals decreased by 8.4 % over the long-term period (2002 to 2017), but has increased by 4.6 % in the short-term period since 2012. In contrast, consumption of fossil energy materials (including coal, natural gas and oil) has fallen both in the long- and short-term periods, with an especially noteworthy 18.5 % decrease between 2002 and 2017. This decline might have been driven in part by a decrease in overall economic activity from 2008 onwards due to the economic crisis, but also by a long-term trend of increased use of energy from renewable sources, as well as the improved overall energy efficiency of the EU economies . The consumption of biomass has increased by 3.2 % in the short term (since 2012), while it has remained nearly unchanged in the long term (since 2002). Only the consumption of metal ores increased significantly in both the short and the long term, by 25.5 % and 17.0 %, respectively.
Consumption of toxic chemicals fell moderately in the long and short term
Most everyday products used by businesses and consumers are produced with the help of chemicals. Chemicals are one way for farmers to protect their crops from pests, and they are used as ingredients in pharmaceuticals, detergents, cosmetics, textiles, buildings and other artificial areas, as well as packaging. These uses make them a significant contributor to the EU economy, with sales worth EUR 507 billion in 2016 . 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 an imperfect proxy for human exposure .
In 2016, 344.7 million tonnes of chemicals were consumed in the EU. Of this volume, 35.4 % (122.0 million tonnes) were classified as hazardous to the environment and 62.2 % (214.5 million tonnes) as substances that might harm human health. Since 2004, the consumption has declined by 10.5 % for chemicals hazardous to the environment and by 10.7 % for chemicals hazardous to health.
However, a reduction in the consumption of toxic chemicals cannot be equated to a reduction in the risks. For instance, it is possible that reductions in the consumption of toxic chemicals are being offset by increased imports of products that contain such chemicals. Production of chemicals in the EU, which are not consumed but exported, can pollute at the location where they are produced. Likewise, chemicals that are made and used outside the EU can reach Europe via air, water and food, as well as in products  . It should also be noted that the actual risks related to the use of toxic chemicals is not necessarily associated with the amount of consumption, as some chemicals are handled in closed systems while others can be formed during use (for example, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) with high-risk management measures, or as intermediate goods in controlled supply chains .
The decline in average CO2 emissions per km for newly registered passenger cars has slowed down in recent years
Cars are responsible for around 12 % of total EU 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 emission reduction targets for new vehicles of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre in 2015 and 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre in 2021 . These targets apply to a manufacturer’s new car fleet. For each manufacturer, a specific emission target is set according to the average mass of its new vehicles, using a limit value curve . The curve is set in such a way that the targets for the EU fleet average emissions are achieved.
While the passenger car fleet in almost all Member States has grown over the past decade , average CO2 emissions per km from new passenger cars in the EU have fallen by 10.4 % since 2012, reaching 118.5 grams of CO2 per km in 2017. While the 2015 target has been met two years in advance, a recent slowdown in emission reductions observed since 2015 means further progress will be necessary to reach the 2021 target set at 95 grams of CO2 per km.
It should also be noted that the effective reduction in emission intensity measured in CO2 emissions per km, appears to be lower than indicated by official type-approved values used for monitoring purposes. Under real-world driving conditions, new passenger cars in the EU emitted in 2015 on average around 40 % more than in the laboratory . Until 2017, the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test procedure had been used to measure CO2 emissions of new passenger cars. Yet, the outdated NEDC no longer corresponds to present-day driving conditions or vehicle technologies. This allowed carmakers to optimise the testing, thereby achieving lower fuel consumption and CO2 emission values, for example by optimising vehicle temperature during the testing, resulting in a lower rolling resistance . In recognition of these shortcomings, in September 2017 the EU introduced a new measurement procedure known as the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP). The WLTP provides stricter, up-to-date test conditions and more realistic fuel-consumption and CO2 emission values .
The availability of reliable and affordable energy is a prerequisite for the functioning and growth of European economies. However, increased energy consumption may put further pressure on the environment, deplete fossil fuels and intensify the EU’s dependency on imported energy. To countervail these negative effects, the EU aims to use energy more efficiently and shift towards using renewable energy sources.
The EU is on track to reach its renewable-energy target, but additional progress is needed to meet the energy-efficiency targets
Using energy more efficiently and increasing the share of renewables allows for further growth while reducing environmental impacts, dependencies and costs linked to energy supply and use. Therefore the EU seeks to boost its energy efficiency by 20 % and to increase its share of renewable energy to 20 % of energy consumption by 2020.
In order to measure progress with regards to the energy-efficiency target, it has been translated into absolute target values for primary energy consumption (1 483 Mtoe) and final energy consumption (1 086 Mtoe) for 2020. In 2016, 1 542.7 Mtoe of primary and 1 107.7 Mtoe of final energy were consumed. Overall, the consumption of primary and final energy fell in the long term (between 2001 and 2016) by 7.0 % and 4.2 %, respectively. In the short term (since 2011), the decrease has been lower for both primary and final energy consumption. As primary and final energy consumption have been rising again since 2014, the 2020 energy-efficiency targets, particularly for final energy consumption, may be beyond reach. In contrast, the share of renewable energy in energy consumption shows a clearly favourable trend. The EU steadily increased its share, from 8.5 % in 2004 to 17.0 % in 2016, and is well on track to meet its 2020 target (see the article on SDG 7 ‘Affordable and clean energy’).
Waste generation and management
Production and consumption patterns characterised by products being made, used and disposed of in an accelerated fashion are not efficient. With increased levels of consumption such patterns are coming up against constraints. Therefore, the EU aims to establish a circular economy where materials and resources are kept in the economy for as long as possible, and waste is minimised.
Reducing both the input of materials and the output of wastes by closing economic and ecological loops of resource flows is an important aspect of a circular economy. In 2014, 871 million tonnes of waste, excluding major mineral waste, were generated, which corresponds to 1 717 kilograms of waste per EU inhabitant . When not managed sustainably, all of this waste could have a huge impact on the environment, causing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, as well as to significant losses of materials . Waste cannot always be avoided and should be seen as a resource. Increased recycling rates would put materials back in the economy and ensure they are kept in circulation in order to preserve the value embedded in them.
Favourable trends in waste generation, prevention, treatment and circularity
Between 2004 and 2014, the amount of waste generated per capita, excluding major mineral wastes, decreased by 10 % in the EU. Over the same period the EU circular material use (CMU) rate, indicating the share of used materials that came from collected waste, increased from 8.3 % to 11.4 %. Data for the recycling of waste excluding major mineral wastes are only available from 2010 onwards and show a slight increase between 2010 and 2014, from 53 % to 55 %. However, despite having considerably higher end-of-life recycling rates, the relatively low degree of circularity in the EU can be attributed to two structural barriers. First, a large fraction of the materials is used to build and maintain buildings, infrastructure and other long-life goods and is therefore not available for recycling. A second barrier is the large amount of materials used for energy generation. For these materials, in particular for fossil-energy materials, closing the loop is hardly possible and the high share of these materials keeps the degree of circularity low .
In 2014, a third of wastes (excluding major mineral wastes) was made up of mixed ordinary wastes. This category includes wastes from households, mixed undifferentiated materials and sorting residues. Wastes merged in the ‘recyclable wastes’ category, such as metal, glass, paper and plastic, accounted for around a quarter, followed by combustion waste (15 %), animal and vegetal wastes (10 %), chemical and medical wastes (6 %) and mineral wastes from waste treatment and stabilised wastes (5 %). Common sludges and equipment had a share of around 2 % each in 2014 .
With a share of 55 % in 2014, more than half of the waste that underwent waste treatment in the EU was recycled. A quarter of the generated wastes went to landfill, meaning the deposit of waste onto or into land. While landfilling fell from 28 % in 2010 to 25 % in 2014, incineration with energy recovery increased from 11 % in 2010 to 14 % in 2014. Other treatment methods collectively accounted for less than 10 % of waste treatment over the whole period analysed.
Recycling rates appear to be higher for total waste (excluding major mineral wastes) than for municipal waste alone. Despite a considerable increase over the past decade, recycling rates of municipal waste remained below 50 % in the EU (45.3 % in 2016) . This is because landfill and incineration are the dominant treatment operations for municipal waste. However, there was a significant shift from landfill to incineration for energy recovery. While in 2011, 34.4 % of municipal waste went to landfill and 24.0 % to incineration, in 2016 the share of landfill was slightly lower (24.4 %) than for incineration (27.6 %) .
In 2014, 7.0 % of the generated waste (excluding major mineral wastes) — corresponding to 120 kg per resident — was hazardous to health or the environment. The share of hazardous waste shows diverging trends over the short and long terms. While the share increased by 1.2 percentage points overall (between 2004 and 2014), in the short term since 2010 the share has fallen by 0.2 percentage points .
Although the absolute amount of generated waste (excluding major mineral wastes) fell significantly between 2004 and 2014, the development was not uniform across all economic sectors. Waste that arose within the waste-management system  grew by 84 % and accounted for more than one quarter (27 %) in 2014. The second largest share of waste (23 %) was generated by households, but their share remained relatively stable over the same period. Waste generated by manufacturing dropped over this 10 year-period by about a third and accounted for 21 % in 2014. Provision of utilities (electricity, gas, steam, and air condition) and services each accounted for 10 % of waste generation in 2014 .
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 in order to increase overall wellbeing, keep the environment clean and healthy, and safeguard the needs of future generations. The rise in living standards and the 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 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 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 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 - 2018 edition’.
- European Parliament and Council of the European Union (2013), Decision No 1386/2013/EU on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’.
- 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 that 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 that 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 (online data code: (nama_10_gdp)).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (nrg_100a)).
- European Commission (2014), Study on modelling of the economic and environmental impacts of raw material consumption, p. 5.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 122.
- 'Other products' and 'waste for final treatment and disposal' accounts for 0.2 %.
- 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. 35.
- The European Chemical Industry Council (2016), European Chemical Industry Facts and Figures Report 2017, p. 5.
- European Environment Agency (2017), Consumption of hazardous chemicals.
- European Environment Agency (2017), Consumption of hazardous chemicals.
- Eurostat (2016), Compilation of chemical indicators. Development, revision and additional analysis, p. 43.
- European Commission, Climate Action, Reducing CO2 emissions from passenger cars.
- European Parliament and Council of the European Union (2014), Regulation (EU) No 333/2014 amending Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 to define the modalities for reaching the 2020 target to reduce CO2 emissions from new passenger cars.
- For more information on a limit value curve see European Commission (2007), Questions and answers on the proposed regulation to reduce CO2 emissions from cars, Press release database.
- See Passenger cars per 1 000 inhabitants, Source: Eurostat (online data code: (road_eqs_carhab)).
- 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 Environment Agency (2017), Fuel efficiency improvements of new cars in Europe slowed in 2016.
European Environment Agency (2016), Explaining road transport emissions: a non-technical guide.
- 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.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasgen))
- European Commission (2010), Being wise with waste: the EU’s approach to waste management.
- 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.
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasgen))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (sdg_11_60))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasmun))
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasgen))
- This category includes the NACE Ref 2 activities waste collection, treatment and disposal activities; materials recovery (E 38), Water collection, treatment and supply; sewerage; remediation activities and other waste management services (E36, E37, E39) and wholesale of waste and scrap (G4677).
- Source: Eurostat (online data code: (env_wasgen)).