SDG 3: Resources and consumption

7th July 2016

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Joanne Jones

Penny Walker looks at firms innovating to conserve resources and move society towards more sustainable consumption, in the third of our series on the SDGs

More than 40% of people worldwide are affected by water scarcity, a figure that is projected to increase as global temperatures rise, according to the UN Development Programme. At the same time population increases will force people into more densely packed communities, many of them exposed to the risks of disease due to the lack of adequate sanitation. The strain water shortages is expected to place on local ecosystems and biodiversity will be immense. Add to this the prospect of water wars, as communities and countries fight over the dwindling supplies, and the need for UN’s sixth sustainable development goal (SDG) appears ever urgent.

Its aim is to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. Targets cover safe, affordable drinking water and access to sanitation and hygiene, improving water quality and its efficient use, and reducing the number of people suffering from the effects of water scarcity. Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems and reducing pollution are also covered. In short, the sixth SDG is about quality and quantity; about human health and thriving ecosystems.

Pharmaceutical giant GSK’s work on water addresses many of these issues. Its PHASE approach has promoted hygiene and improved sanitation in developing countries since 1998. Early work concentrated on diarrhoea-related disease associated with poor hygiene. Recent programmes in Ecuador and Ethiopia have focused on oral health. GSK has piloted ways to reduce water use in its supply chain too, rehabilitating water bodies in rural Indian communities that supply wheat, barley and milk for Horlicks.

Matt Wilson, GSK’s head of global environmental sustainability, says: ‘Our involvement in water and sanitation activities stretches back a long way. As a business, we are also working hard to cut water waste across our operations and we’ve achieved a 25% reduction in water usage since 2010. We are now focusing on the bigger challenge – aiming to reduce our water impact across our value chain by 20% by 2020. This includes use of water in raw materials, logistics and how patients and consumers use our products.’

Clothes business Levi Strauss has not only been innovating to reduce water use in making a pair of its jeans, it has run workshops for competitors to share its Water<Less know-how. Water used to grow cotton, effluent standards and advice to consumers to wash jeans less often also form part of a comprehensive approach by the San Francisco-based company.

You might expect water companies to take a keen interest in this goal – they have responsibilities to supply this basic life-support need, yet they do not control how others use these resources. Working collaboratively is essential for successfully managing and protecting catchments. Wessex Water and Severn Trent Water both operate catchment partnerships, working with farmers, landowners and stakeholders to protect drinking water quality, as part of Defra’s response to meeting Water Framework Directive targets.

Drinks company Diageo has been taking a strategic approach to water stewardship. Its water blueprint recognises that a whole-watershed approach is needed, and that this requires action in the community as well as at its site. This includes replenishing water-stressed areas so that there is no net-take of water in the final products, and helping suppliers protect resources. the environmentalist reported in March how another drinks company, Bacardi, had reduced water consumption at its plants.

Making a start

These tools can help organisations start to address their water footprints:

Life below water

The 14th SDG is to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. There are targets on pollution (including land-based sources), ecosystems and overfishing, ocean acidification, and conservation zones as well as perverse subsidies that encourage damaging fishing practices. Support will be given to small-scale, artisanal fishers and less developed, small island states, while improvements will be made to international scientific knowledge and governance.


Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification is widely recognised: the fish tick logo has been on products in UK supermarkets since 2001 and many companies now have certified products.

French retailer Carrefour has committed to sustainable fisheries management and the MSC approach. In its stores in France, 50 own-brand products are MSC-certified. It has stopped selling at least ten threatened species, including eels and skate. It is also supporting an artisanal fishery, which holds more than 60% of the sole quota in the Eastern Channel and North Sea. Catering businesses have also embraced MSC certification. Brakes Group provides catering supplies to pubs, restaurants, hotels, schools and care homes and carries a number of lines from MSC-certified fisheries.

But it is not only the fish supply chain that can take action to support SDG 14; there is a role for other businesses in conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources.


The shipping sector has big impacts on the marine environment, including pollution,and not just during use. Maersk Group has been wrestling with how to scrap its ships responsibly but only a tiny number of yards worldwide can meet its demands. The Danish company has been working with yards in Alang, India, to upgrade scrapping facilities as well as with other ship owners in order to improve how the sector deals with unwanted vessels. This all-encompassing approach is also apparent in Maersk’s support for the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI). The SSI priorities include establishing responsible governance of the oceans and promoting the use of marine spatial plans. These seek a more rational use of the seas to balance demands for development with the need to protect the environment and bring about beneficial social and economic outcomes.


Land-based sectors have a big impact on oceans too. Agriculture is a main source of land-based nutrient pollution in the Baltic Sea, for example. In response, HELCOM (Helsinki Commission – the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission) has established working groups on marine spatial planning, fishing and agriculture. Meanwhile, WWF’s Baltic Ecoregion Programme is working with other NGOs, government bodies and businesses to promote a sustainable Blue Economy for the Baltic. It runs the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year award, rewarding farming businesses that reduce nutrient run-off. Juris Sprukulis won the Latvian heat in 2015 for reducing pollution through careful recycling of manure as fertiliser.


Standard Chartered bank recognises that its biggest impact is through the businesses it finances. It adopted the Equator Principles in 2003. Ship breaking and fisheries are among its 14 position statements on key sustainability risk issues. Through these policies, the bank aims to discourage poor practice and support the good.

Making a start

Responsible production

Goal 12 aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Targets include overarching commitments to sustainable consumption and production, with specific priorities including food waste, chemicals, tourism and fossil fuel subsidies. Company reporting is also seen as critical. Every business can do something to help meet SDG 12. Dealing with food waste, improving the sustainability of tourism, making better use of materials are three examples.

Food waste

Between growing and eating, about one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Food waste is number 12.3 of the 17 SDGs and a coalition of businesses, under the banner Champions 12.3, has been established to support it.

Tesco has introduced a Perfectly Imperfect range of fresh fruit and vegetables to make better use of edible crops. Mark Little, head of food waste reduction, has identified 11 other ways that the company is working to reduce waste. These include donating surplus produce to food banks, changing the specifications for fresh items, and encouraging innovation through a competition run in partnership with waste body Wrap and government agency Innovate UK. The 2016 winner was the Use-By-Mate app, designed by Wales-based THAW, which Tesco is trialling. The app provides recipe ideas and reminders to help consumers reduce waste.

Meanwhile, Swadlincote in Derbyshire is receiving £1m from Sainsbury’s over 12 months to invest in ways to cut food waste. The aim is to cut it by 50% and save each household £350 a year. Paul Crewe, head of sustainability at Sainsbury’s, says: ‘Food waste is an issue affecting us all, so remember to look at the whole chain to see where it can be avoided. Last year Sainsbury’s launched Waste less, Save more, a £10m investment to help customers save money by reducing the amount of food they throw away. We’ve done this alongside reducing waste in our own operations, and are continually growing the number of local charities we work with to redistribute surplus food.’


Target 12.b focuses on understanding, monitoring and maximising the positive benefits to local communities from tourism. Holiday business TUI Group worked with sustainability charity Travel Foundation and PwC to look at the impact of tourism in Cyprus using the consultancy’s Total Impact Measurement and Management approach. The study found surprisingly small negative environmental and social impacts. Direct positive economic impacts included wages for people employed directly in hotels and tax receipts for the government. It also found that seasonal work and placements gave young people work experience, providing skills and employability over and above what can be learned in formal education. This finding led TUI to invest in hotel schools and work placement schemes in Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Dominican Republic and Tunisia.

Tourists’ discretionary spending had a slightly greater economic impact than the procurement choices made by hotels. TUI is following up insights from the study with pilot projects in Cyprus to encourage customers to book excursions with local providers and to increase the proportion of food that hotels source from producers on the island.

Jane Ashton, TUI Group’s director of sustainable development, has advice for companies in the tourism and travel sector. ‘The first place to look are the hotel and destination sustainability certification programmes recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, for example Travelife,’ she says. ‘This will help you and your suppliers understand impacts, so you and they can manage and improve the most significant ones.’


Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is aiming for zero waste across its operations by 2020, and in 2015–16 saved around 50,000 tonnes of aluminium or 500,000 tonnes CO2 equivalent emissions. The automotive company wants 75% of the aluminium in new vehicles to be from recycled and closed-loop sources by 2020. The REALCAR (recycled aluminium car) is its showpiece. This will use a new grade of high-strength, recycled aluminium the company has developed with support from Innovate UK and supplier Novelis.

Ian Ellison, sustainability manager at JLR, says: ‘We wanted to use aluminium because it is light and makes the car fuel-efficient. But making new aluminium is very energy-intensive, so would we also get the lower CO2 results we wanted? That tension meant we had to use innovation to close the loop. It required collaboration, and that can be hard. So identify your most critical material – the non-trivial problem that you need to solve. You’ll end up innovating technically and organisationally.’

Making a start

Begin by looking at the detailed targets for specific issues relevant to your business. As a baseline, measure and report on the consumption of materials in line with GRI 4, the sustainability reporting guidelines. These include environmental indicators on total materials used, percentage sourced from recycled materials and the amount of waste generated.

For more on the issues in this article:

  • Information on Wrap’s food waste work is available at The waste body is convening the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a voluntary collaboration of the UK food sector to reduce food waste by 20% by 2025.
  • Champions 12.3 is a global coalition tackling food waste (
  • Global Sustainable Tourism Council establishes and manages global sustainable standards (


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