Sustainable Production

Victoria Macdonald, Queens University.


Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of three planets will be necessary to sustain current lifestyles. With already existing deficits in water, energy and food, the reality of 9.6 billion individuals sharing the earth can be a staggering reality.

            Goal twelve of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.” Sustainable Production is the creation of goods and services utilizing processes that are to every extent possible: non-polluting, energy conserving, resource efficient, economically viable, and safe for workers. Essentially, the theory is that when production is sustainable, all parties involved benefit. The overarching aim of this initiative is to reduce energy input while simultaneously maximizing output. The end-goal of this approach is to ensure sustainable management of resources within the confines of current cultural expectations and lifestyles.

            In a time where the consumption of natural resources is increasing rapidly, the entire world, particularly those in the “developing world” are posed with the challenge of combatting the externalities that are associated with staggering consumption patterns. This often entails implementing measures that reduce the future economic, environmental and social costs of production while reducing poverty and opening new markets. Often times, countries do not have the management capacity or the resources to effectively develop these measures. Moreover, when resources are provided through financial agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank, a predominantly Western model of production is implied. However, there is no cookie cutter fit for development, and countries outside of the Western Hemisphere do not follow the same rubric of development.

            In theory, the sustainable production model proposed by the UN seems simple. However, in practice, it is very difficult to implement. Sustainable production practices represent a meticulous global challenge. Sustainable production practices require a holistic audit of the entire supply chain. This begins at the initial input and ends with the delivery of the final product. The production supply chain involves numerous stages, each of which has its own impact on the environment and workers involved.

             That being said, sustainable production approaches have been successfully accomplished in many production chains around the world. In these applications, various techniques and technologies have been explored to reduce the chemical, labour, water, and energy demands of supply chains. Sustainable production is also context specific, meaning that the country or the business who is conducting the production can identify the gaps in production that they see to be most pressing. In being holistic, it means that no issue is left behind, all human costs and environmental impacts are accounted for.

            In application, sustainable production is context specific. For example, academic and non-profit leaders are more likely to utilize the concept of sustainable production in reference to the cultural assumption of contentious economic growth. Here, in this context, language tends towards a theoretical framework rather than an applied level. Governments tend to avoid using the term sustainable production because it does not account for current economic disparities. The private sector is likely to adopt sustainable production in the context of efficiency and corporate philanthropy, this becomes especially relevant in terms of profit motivation and business expansion. Therefore, the concept of sustainable production is versatile and provides a unique pathway to achieve a global standard appropriate production and consumption patterns.