TSC Thursdays is a weekly TSC blog post with top trending news and issues pertaining to UN Sustainable Goals. TSC’s SDG COVID Impact Dashboard applies our proprietary models and methodologies to filter the global chatter through a dynamic issue taxonomy to track and visualize COVID-19's impact across 17 SDGs in real-time.

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TSC's SDG COVID Impact Dashboard identified the recurring positive sentiment for “Responsible Consumption,” under the theme of “Responsible Consumption and Production Patterns (see Image 1),” highlighted as a strong trending subject (see Image 2), despite declining emergence (see Image 3) this week. COVID-19 has complicated efforts in achieving various SDG goals, including implementation efforts on the “Environmental & Sustainability” front. During the vicissitudes of this period, plastic circularity has appeared to be the face of the largely touted “circular economy,” a potential solution to multiple SDGs. Yet is this the only dominant conversation around circular economy with respect to Responsible Consumption in our post-COVID era? What are some of the latest news surrounding it? What else is gaining traction from the topic of circular economy?


Image 1 (Left): TSC’s SDG Issue Radar reflecting positive sentiments across ‘Responsible Consumption’ under SDG 12. Image 2 (Right): “Responsible Consumption” as one of the top 5 trending issues within TSC’s SDG Radar.

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Image 3: TSC’s SDG Heatmap reflecting declining emergence across ‘Responsible Consumption’ under SDG 12 from April (Left) and August (Right).

How is circular economy relevant to the SDGs?

The concept of circular economy has been identified in 2018 by the 73rd UN General Assembly and the UN Economic and Social Council as a potential solution to multiple SDGs, including goals 6 on Energy, 13 on Climate Change, and particularly emphasized on SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production, amongst others. Practical experimentation dates way back, with increasing academic perspectives on its relevance (see Image 4).

Link to CE to goals visual data

Image 4: Taken from Figure 4 of “Schroeder, P., Anggraeni, K., & Weber, U. (2019). The relevance of circular economy practices to the sustainable development goals. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 23(1), 77-95.”


What is trending in the circular economy arena?

Just this week, with the recent launch of The U.S. Plastic Pact, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global network expanded its reach for its vision for a new plastics economy, where plastic never becomes waste. More than 60 major organizations, government agencies and NGOs have enrolled to make a difference1. In line with corporate efforts, Singapore-based Alliance to End Plastic Waste has released their 2020 Progress Report, outlining global efforts to eliminate plastic waste, displaying corporate responsibility to the environment. In this same week, efforts to formalize certification for Responsible Plastic Management (RPM) was officially announced by Lloyd’s Register. Just this August, The Circulate Initiative, an advocate for circular economy, published its report: “Measuring Our Success: How Better Data Can Help Keep Plastic Out of the Ocean,” which highlights the disunity in data measurements, limiting the effectiveness of circularity of plastic in curbing waste leakage into oceans. Earlier this June, the Pew Foundation and SYSTEMIQ published its report: “Breaking the Plastic Wave,” reported the possibility of increased plastic pollution leakage into the world’s oceans this pandemic period, and the need for grander ambitions in intervention goals. TSC’s proprietary software, ATIUM is able to capture these news, under the issue of “Responsible Consumption,” allowing not just the swift identification of important content in real-time, but also provides an avenue to piece them together into a coherent whole (see Image 5). The plastic waste narrative seems to be the dominant perspective on circular economy, but is that all?

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Image 5: TSC’s mapping software allows us to identify key global actors within the circular economy landscape, to better understand the interconnected network of these drivers and advocates in the space.


Staying ahead: what else is there?

Trends can be spotted using TSC’s monitoring functionality. China is expected to miss it’s UN climate plan this year, with UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa expressing her cause for concerns on the pandemic disrupting climate diplomacy. Yet, ambitious sustainability plans are being set globally. Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden vows to rejoin the Paris Agreement if elected, and commits to have the country reach net zero emissions by 20502. One viable option in the decarbonizing of an economy is in increasing the circularity of plastic products, as reported by McKinsey & Company in 2018. Ex-Vice President Joe Biden’s commitment highlights the idea of decoupling economic growth with environmental degradation3, further popularizing the key idea behind “Responsible Consumption and Production.” Indeed, the earlier Pew Foundation’s report explicitly mentions the possible inadequacy of the circular economy with increased virgin plastic production fueling emission of greenhouse gases. Though not as prominent, there is an increasing evolution in the conversation on circular economy to include climate goals. This suggests the necessary joint ambition to tackle SDG 13 on Climate Change in close consideration to Responsible Consumption in SDG 124.

In such disruptive times, fulfillment of some SDGs may have taken a backseat due to the immediate pressing challenges from the pandemic. However, as UN Climate Chief Patricia Espinosa puts it, “Addressing climate change and COVID-19 are not mutually exclusive. They are perfectly compatible. If we want to talk about a recovery there is no choice: we have to address both.” Perhaps then, as a refined approach, a joint endeavor to address both responsible consumption and climate change, through a evolving lens of circular economy, may be worth greater consideration.

Learn more
  1. This fulfills the Agenda 12.6, to “encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.”
  2. One of the viable options in decarbonizing the economy includes increasing the circularity of plastic products, as reported by McKinsey & Company in 2018.
  3. Thinking ahead, Mckinsey & Company has shared a series of articles centered on Climate Change, providing multiple perspectives of tackling climate change in achieving sustainable environmental goals.
  4. Further Thoughts: Why is there a declining emergence to Responsible Consumption? Who are the possible local/regional actors involved in pushing for a circular economy in the post-COVID order? Contact us to stay informed.