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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - February 2018

Responsible consumption and production vital for attaining SDGs

Nordic countries call for swift international action

In 2017, the Ministers for Nordic Cooperation adopted Generation 2030, a new programme that reiterates the region’s strong commitment to sustainability and the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, with a special focus on sustainable consumption and production – an area in which the Nordics are lagging behind. Generation 2030 has a specific ambition to accelerate the Nordics towards achieving the SDGs, and thereby strengthen the region’s role as a world leader in sustainability.

When launching the Generation 2030 programme, the ministers emphasised the shared responsibilities of the international community to act swiftly and decisively to implement the SDGs.

“Focusing on sustainable consumption and production is crucial for us as an organisation and a region with regard to achieving the SDGs,” says Anniina Kristinsson, advisor for sustainable development at the Nordic Council of Ministers.  “We need to honestly and openly zoom in on our sustainability challenges, and we need to do it together with multiple partners within Nordic co-operation as well as with other international partners and the private sector.”

50 examples for inspiration and further action

The Nordic Council of Ministers has a long history of working with environmental issues and sustainable consumption and production.

“An important part of our task is to share Nordic experience with others,” says Annica Carlsson, chairman of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Working Group on Sustainable Consumption and Production. “We’ve been promoting resource efficiency and more sustainable consumption and production patterns for a long while, focusing on decoupling resource use and environmental pressures from economic growth.”

The group recently presented three reports showcasing over 50 best-practice examples from the Nordic region to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable consumption and production patterns (SCP). The reports were submitted to the 10YFP, UN Environment’s 10-year Framework of Programmes on SCP, and posted on its Global SCP Clearinghouse. This global framework has established a network of more than 600 institutions promoting the shift to SCP at regional and national levels, including by sharing best practices.

“There is an array of practices from the Nordic Region that will be valuable for Nordic countries as a regional grouping and for the rest of the world,” says Charles Arden Clarke, Head of the 10YFP secretariat. “In the past, the Nordic region has led the way in integrating environmental concerns into development co-operation. There is a huge need for that now for SDG12, which is probably the most underfunded SDG. We consider it essential that Nordic countries lend their experience, policies and support to more international cooperation on SDG12.”

Close interlinkages to other SDG targets

The Nordic best-practice cases are divided into the six programme areas of the 10YFP: Sustainable Lifestyles and Education, Sustainable Public Procurement, Sustainable Tourism, Consumer Information for SCP, Sustainable Building and Construction, and Sustainable Food Systems.

As the list of programme areas indicates, the shift towards SCP is closely linked to many of the other SDGs, such as the goals on water, energy, sustainable cities, terrestrial ecosystems and partnerships for implementing the goals. All of these, along with SDG12, will be reviewed at the UN High Level Political Forum in July 2018.

“All six goals have underlying targets, 31 of which are dependent on a shift to more sustainable consumption and production patterns,” Arden-Clarke explains.

The 10YFP has highlighted 14 particularly crucial targets for which policies and other initiatives are urgently needed to promote the shift to SCP patterns. These targets cover issues like water and energy efficiency, planning and infrastructure for resource-efficient and less polluted cities, as well as policies to conserve biodiversity and ecosystems and restore degraded land.

Arden-Clarke takes sustainable food systems, which is also a key focus for the Nordic Prime Ministers’ initiative Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges, as an example of the many interlinkages between the SDGs.

“Such systems serve better to maintain soil of fertility, prevent land degradation and maintain biodiversity and ecosystems related to agriculture. They will be more efficient in terms of their water input, they will tend to use less chemicals with lower impacts on biodiversity, and they will help sustain the land on which food production depends. Measures such as eco-labelling applied to these systems will also address the target for accurate consumer information to facilitate the choice of sustainable food products.”

Sustainability should be the easy choice

Progress towards the SDGs and the underlying targets requires involvement and support from governments all around the world, from national and regional policy makers, and not least from businesses and consumers. As the name indicates, active participation from youth – the consumers of the future – is a major focus of Generation 2030. This involvement from the entire value chain is a distinguishing feature of the sustainability work of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

“Sustainability should represent a clear competitive advantage, so that the companies that are sustainable are also those that are most profitable.”

Cilia Holmes Indahl
Sustainability Director, Aker BioMarine

Cilia Holmes Indahl is Sustainability Director of Aker BioMarine and head of the Adjudication Committee for the Nordic Council Environment Prize, which is annually awarded to companies or individuals that have made extraordinary efforts for the environment.

“What motivates me is to create a society where sustainability is the easy choice for businesses and consumers alike,” she says. “Sustainability should represent a clear competitive advantage, so that the companies that are sustainable are also those that are most profitable.”

According to Indahl, businesses in the region benefit from close connections between companies and policy makers and a shared interest in developing a resource-efficient and sustainable society. This makes it easier to introduce new sustainable business models and innovations.

“The shift to sustainable consumption and production is all about using less resources and creating more value from them, such as by strengthening the sharing economy. We need to maintain a strong and growing economy, but it’s essential that we decouple production and the way in which we consume from our use of natural resources.”

Comprehensive game plan for sustainable development

“If we’re serious about achieving SDG12, we really need to scale up,” Arden-Clarke says. “The trust and respect in which Nordic countries and their work in international cooperation is held is a huge asset. If that weight were lent to the SCP agenda globally, I’m sure we would make progress faster on what is frankly a huge task.”

And while everybody can agree that there is a long way to go, Arden-Clarke is convinced that the SDGs are an efficient tool to move the world in the right direction.

“None of this is rocket science and all of this is known. What’s exciting about the SDGs is that they give us an operational framework in which to design our actions to actually achieve these objectives. They’re framed as goals, targets and indicators, which gives us a comprehensive game plan for the kind of integrated policy making you need to achieve sustainable development. With all their experience and best practices, Nordic countries are well placed to lead the implementation of this game plan for sustainable development.”

Photo 1: Daiga Ellaby / Unsplash

Photo 2: Benjamin Suomela /

Photo 3: Benjamin Suomela /