SDG 12 - Responsible consumption and production

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Data extracted in May 2021.

Planned article update: June 2022.


EU trend of SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production

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 on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’. This report is the fifth 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.

SDG 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.

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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 in decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth, increasing the value added from green products and services and improving its use of circular materials. However, waste generation has been increasing 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. Continuous growth in the consumption of finite resources both harms the environment and significantly 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 [1]. 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 the consumption of toxic chemicals and CO2 emissions related to transport.

Some decoupling of resource and energy consumption from economic output has occurred in the EU, but not consistently

Resource productivity [2] and energy productivity [3] directly monitor how much output (in terms of GDP) an economy produces per unit of used materials or energy. When a rise in economic output causes an equal increase of, for instance, resource consumption, these two variables are said to be coupled. Decoupling of the two variables can be relative, when an increase in economic output occurs alongside a lesser increase in the environmental pressure variable, or absolute, when the environmental pressure decreases. Decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts is a central aim of green growth strategies such as the European Green Deal (see Annex III in the PDF version for a detailed explanation of the decoupling concept).

Economic growth in the EU alongside reductions in domestic material consumption (DMC) led to an increase in the EU’s resource productivity by 36.4 % between 2004 and 2019, reaching EUR 2.09 per kg of DMC in 2019. During this time period, the EU economy grew (in terms of GDP) by 22.2 %  [4], while DMC fell by 10.4 %. A closer look at the underlying trends shows there was some coupling DMC and GDP until the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, followed by a period of relative and absolute decoupling between the two indicators. Since 2013, however, there has mainly been relative decoupling of DMC from GDP, due to an increase in DMC, albeit at a slower rate than GDP.

These 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 5.2 %. However, despite the recent increase, in 2019 total DMC was still 16.5 % 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 [5].

Moreover, DMC includes imports and exports in the actual weight of the traded goods when they cross country borders, instead of the weight of materials extracted to produce them. A high share of imports in total consumption might therefore signal an underestimation of the total resource use caused by the EU, when looking at DMC only. The material footprint, also referred to as raw material consumption (RMC), addresses the limitation of DMC by accounting for the materials required along the supply chains of goods and services finally consumed in a country. Over the period 2013 to 2018, imports measured in raw material equivalents  [6] are estimated to have been two times higher than when measured in the weight of traded goods only. In 2018, the EU’s material input (domestic extraction plus imports) in terms of RMC was not only about 25 % higher than for DMC, but it had also grown slightly stronger between 2013 and 2018. This suggests that further efforts might be required to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal, which calls for a reduction in environmental pressures alongside economic growth (also see the section spillover effects).

Observed trends for energy productivity are similar to those of resource productivity. From 2004 to 2019, the EU increased its energy productivity by 34.1 %. Economic growth in the EU was accompanied by reductions in gross available energy (GAE), which fell by 8.9 % [7]. Between 2004 and 2008, there was relative decoupling of GAE from GDP, which changed in the course of the 2008 economic crisis. The short-term period between 2014 and 2019 shows a mix of absolute and relative decoupling.

Figure 1: Resource productivity, EU, 2000-2019 (EUR per kg, chain-linked volumes (2015))
Source: Eurostat (sdg_12_20)

Consumption of toxic chemicals has 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 chemical sales worth EUR 543 billion in 2019 [8]. 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 (manufactured) chemicals that are hazardous to human and environmental health is, therefore, used as a proxy for human exposure [9].

In 2019, 216.6 million tonnes of toxic chemicals were consumed in the EU. Since 2004, the total consumption of toxic chemicals has fallen by 10.3 %. However, this trend has stagnated over the past five years as consumption only decreased by 1.7 % between 2014 and 2019. The decrease in consumption of toxic chemicals in parallel with an overall increase in GDP between 2004 and 2019 marks a decoupling of the two indicators. There was a period of relative decoupling from 2004 until 2007, with toxic chemicals consumption starting to fall even before the start of the economic crisis in 2008. After GDP began to recover in 2013, the two indicators mainly showed absolute decoupling.

Figure 2: Consumption of toxic chemicals, EU, 2004-2018 (million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_12_10)

CO2 emissions from new car fleets increased between 2016 and 2019

In 2018, passenger cars were responsible for 14.1 % of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas  [10]. To reduce those emissions, the EU has set targets for the fleet-wide average emissions of new passenger cars: until 2019, this target was 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km), while from 2020 onwards a stricter target of 95 g/km applies [11]. 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 overall targets for the EU’s average fleet emissions are met.

Average CO2 emissions per km from new passenger cars in the EU reached 122.2 g/km in 2019, which is only a 0.7 % fall since 2014. This limited reduction is due to the increase in average CO2 emissions since 2016 when they had reached a low of 117.6 g/km. The 3.9 % increase in car fleets’ emissions between 2016 and 2019 means that further progress will be needed to reach the 2020 target as well as the stricter targets that will apply from 2025 and 2030 onwards [12].

Replacing conventional cars with zero emission vehicles will be a crucial step in achieving climate neutrality and the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, as proposed in the EU’s 2030 Climate Target Plan [13]. According to data from the European Alternative Fuels Observatory, the share of zero emission vehicles — including both battery electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles — in newly registered passenger cars in the EU rose from 0.4 % in 2015 to 5.3 % in 2020. However, the share differs considerably between different European countries. Within the EU, the Netherlands reported the highest share of zero emission vehicles in newly registered passenger cars with a share of 20 % in 2020, followed by Sweden with 9 % and Denmark with 7 %. In contrast, zero emission vehicles accounted for less than 1 % of newly registered passenger cars in Cyprus in Greece. Norway reported a much higher share of zero emission vehicles than the EU, with zero emission vehicles making up more than half of the newly registered passenger cars in that country in 2020. Comparing Figures 6 and 7 in the statistical annex reveals that countries with a high share of zero emission vehicles in newly registered passenger cars – such as the Netherlands, Denmark or France – are also among the best performers for car fleets’ CO2 emissions.

Diverging national incentive systems may provide an explanation for the stark contrast in the uptake of zero emission vehicles across Europe. This includes financial incentives such as purchase incentives, reduced parking fees, benefits for vehicle and fuel taxes, and reduced infrastructure and road charging as well as non-financial incentives such as providing the necessary recharging or refuelling infrastructure, establishing low-emission zones in cities and CO2 standards [14]. For instance, Greece has established few financial benefits regarding zero emission vehicles (such as registration and ownership tax benefits) [15], whereas Norway offers both extensive financial and non-financial incentives for zero emission vehicles (such as several tax exemptions as well as free parking or the possibility of using bus lanes) [16].

Figure 3: Average CO2 emissions per km from new passenger cars, EU, 2007-2019 (g CO2 per km)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_12_30)

Green economy

Increasing 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 [17]. The 2020 EU industrial strategy [18] aims to make industry greener and more digital.

The value added of the environmental goods and services sector has shown strong growth over the past 15 years

Over the past 15 years, the gross value added in the EGSS in the EU has grown by 66.3 %, from EUR 169.2 billion in 2003 to EUR 281.4 billion in 2018. This can be attributed to growth in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, as well as an increase in spending on green infrastructure [19]. In relation to the whole economy, the EGSS grew, in gross value added terms, from 1.7 % of GDP in 2003 to 2.3 % in 2018. This indicates the sector grew disproportionally faster than other economic sectors. Most of this outperformance, however, took place in the period up to 2011, with the EGSS growing at about the same pace as GDP since then. Employment (in full-time equivalent) in the sector has also increased since 2003, by 32.3 %. In 2018, the sector employed nearly 4.4 million people throughout the EU [20].

Figure 4: Gross value added in the environmental goods and services sector, EU, 2000-2018 (chain-linked volumes, index 2003 = 100)
Source: Eurostat index based on data codes (sdg_12_61) and (nama_10_gdp)

Waste generation and management

Production and consumption patterns characterised by products being made, used and disposed of at an ever-faster rate 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 into the economy and ensure they are kept in circulation to preserve the value embedded within 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.

Waste generation is on the rise in the EU, while the circular material use rate keeps improving

In 2018, 812 million tonnes of waste, excluding major mineral waste, were generated in the EU, corresponding to 1 818 kilograms (kg) of waste per inhabitant [21]. Of this waste, 7.9 % was hazardous to health or the environment, corresponding to 143 kg per resident [22]. Another 8.5 % was food waste generated in the production, distribution and consumption of food, amounting to 69 million tonnes in total or 154.6 kg per capita in 2018 [23]. Over the long-term period, the amount of non-mineral waste generated per capita in the EU increased by 1.0 % between 2004 and 2018. The short-term trend has been even less favourable, with the figure increasing by 4.8 % between 2014 and 2018.

This distinct rise in waste generation along with an increase in GDP shows the two indicators were coupled in the period from 2004 to 2018. The 2008 economic and financial crisis and its repercussions pose the only exception to this development as both indicators decreased in that time span, marking a short period of negative coupling. Waste generation, however, had started rising again already by 2010, whereas GDP did not recover until 2014. Between 2014 and 2018, waste generation and GDP were once again coupled, with both indicators increasing continuously.

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 [24]. Recycling waste and feeding it back into the economy as secondary raw materials relies heavily on improved waste management and is crucial for reducing the EU’s demand for primary raw materials [25]. Between 2004 and 2019, the EU circular material use (CMU) rate — indicating the share of used materials derived from collected waste — increased from 8.3 % to 11.9 % and has grown by 0.8 percentage points since 2014.

Data for the recycling of waste excluding major mineral wastes show that 56 % of EU waste was recycled in 2016 [26]. The difference between this relatively high end-of-life recycling rate and the CMU rate (11.9 % in 2019) 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 [27].

Figure 5: Generation of waste excluding major mineral wastes, by hazardousness, EU, 2004-2018 (kg per capita)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_12_50)

Figure 6: Circular material use rate, EU, 2004-2019 (% of material input for domestic use)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_12_41)


Consumption and production patterns have wide environmental and social impacts. Sustainable production and consumption 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 have tended to go 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 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 possible 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 a shift 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 and social benefits.

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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 on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’.

Further reading on responsible consumption and production


  1. European Commission (2019), The European Green Deal, COM(2019) 640 final, Brussels.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Source: Eurostat (nama_10_gdp).
  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.
  6. Source: Eurostat (ENV_AC_RME).
  7. Source: Eurostat (nrg_bal_s).
  8. The European Chemical Industry Council (2021), Facts and Figures of the European Chemical Industry 2021, p. 6.
  9. European Environment Agency (2019), Consumption of hazardous chemicals.
  10. European Commission (2020), EU Transport in figures — Statistical pocketbook 2020, p. 159.
  11. European Parliament and Council of the European Union (2019), Regulation (EU) 2019/631 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 setting CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/2011, OJ L 111.
  12. European Parliament and Council of the European Union (2019), Regulation (EU) 2019/631 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 setting CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles, and repealing Regulations (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/2011, OJ L 111.
  13. European Commission (2020), Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition Investing in a climate-neutral future for the benefit of our people, COM(2020) 562 final, Brussels.
  14. European Commission (2020), Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy — putting European transport on track for the future, SWD(2020) 331 final, Brussels; and European Commission (2020), State of the art on alternative fuels transport systems in the European Union. 2020 Update, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
  15. European Alternative Fuels Observatory (2021), Country detail incentives, Greece, accessed 16th February 2021.
  16. European Alternative Fuels Observatory (2021), Country detail incentives, Norway, accessed 16th February 2021.
  17. European Environment Agency (2019), Environmental Goods and Services Sector: employment and value added.
  18. European Commission (2020), A New Industrial Strategy for Europe, COM(2020) 102 final, Brussels.
  19. European Environment Agency (2019), Environmental Goods and Services Sector: employment and value added.
  20. Source: Eurostat (env_ac_egss1).
  21. Source: Eurostat (env_wasgen).
  22. Source: Eurostat (env_wasgen).
  23. Source: Eurostat; estimates based on generation of waste by waste category, hazardousness and NACE Rev. 2 activity, online data code: (env_wasgen), collected on the basis of the Waste Statistics Regulation; see:
  24. European Commission (2010), Being wise with waste: the EU’s approach to waste management, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
  25. European Commission (2021), Green growth: Raw materials, accessed 16th February 2021.
  26. Source: Eurostat (env_wasoper)
  27. 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, Journal of Industrial Ecology, October 2015, Vol.19(5), 765-777.