The Potential for Blockchain to accelerate progress on SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production

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Responsible consumption and production are key components of the global transition to sustainability, exemplified through its place as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. With current increasing trends of natural resources use, Goal 12 aims at “doing more and better with less”, concentrating on every step in the supply chain from producer to consumer. Our current consumption rate suggests that human’s consume the equivalent to 1.6 Earth’s. Should global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, consumption could be equivalent to almost three planets. That is clearly unsustainable, and action is needed.

When considering what kind of action can be taken, the concept of a circular economy presents the idea of an economy that is based not on creating waste and pollution, but rather on the re-use of already existing products and materials. To move from a linear towards a circular economy requires efforts from all stakeholders in all sectors. Bringing together different stakeholders is one of the challenges noted by World Economic Forum, with coordination being a critical component into organising and addressing global sustainability. 

For sustainable consumption and production, research suggests the need for technological change actions taken by well-informed consumers, and consideration of overall levels of consumption, as well as distributional problems, and social and institutional changes. In the realm of technology, blockchain is becoming increasingly more relevant for global supply operations. The distributed ledger technology, which is a defining aspect of blockchain technology, is a database that maintains lists of dispersed transaction records, known as a block, where each addition joins as part of the chain. In the case of a supply chain, a block could be formed of information from each part of the product’s journey, from raw material supplier to the end-consumer. Once recorded and verified on the blockchain each input cannot be altered, which provides a transparent and immutable ledger of information available to producers and consumers about the history of a product. 

With that, blockchain provides various benefits yet to be replicated by other technologies. Data is available to all groups involved in the transaction, with its unchanging nature creating a trustless environment of transactions, which can lower transaction costs. For supply chains, this ensures a full history of raw materials and products, which can help identify acceptable sourcing and potential inefficiencies in the supply chain of a product. The technology can therefore reduce the risks associated with human error and allow for faster responses to any identified problems along the supply chain. 

The concept of blockchain for supply chains has been adopted by UK company Provenance, who pioneered tracking fish through supply chains to guarantee sustainability from the source, preventing fabricated claims of sustainability as the fish was transported from source to place of consumption. This ensures that customers looking for sustainably-sourced produce can trust that their product is genuine, and that their choice supports the sustainable fishing trade instead of unsustainable fishing practices. Fishermen for example, can register a catch through a text message, which generates a new blockchain ID for an individual fish or an entire catch. As the fish moves through the supply chain, this ID moves with it. Additional information environmental data can be attached to further demonstrate legality and sustainability of the product – this is an example indicating how blockchain can aid achievement of SDG 12 as well as several core aspects of Agenda 2030 related to sustainable and responsible consumption and production. Admittedly, achieving sustainability in consumption and production requires the effort of all parties, and therefore no one method or individual on its own can accomplish Goal 12. The application of new technologies is but one part in the transition to sustainability. The 2030 Agenda outlining the Sustainable Development Goals recognised technology and innovation as being of critical importance to achieving the goals. Though this is contradictory, given some division between technology optimists and pessimists, blockchain technology can offer trust and authority through its decentralised network, providing answers to problems in achieving SDG 12 and others, which are yet unsolved by other means.