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    Sustainable Development Goals

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    (This entry belongs to Entry Collection "Environmental Sciences ")


    Sustainable development goals (SDGs) are a global development programme of the UN’s blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, containing 17 goals adopted in 2015. They address the challenges that global populations are facing, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. The programmes generally emphasise sustainable economic growth and strengthening modes of sustainability to implement the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Of these SDGs, SDGS 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 17 are, directly and/or indirectly, linked to the phenomena of sustainability and circularity. Governments in the countries that are signatories of the United Nation (UN)’s SDGs play a crucial role in the target achievement by taking different actions, including national policies and programmes, related to the SDGs.

    1. Sustainable Development through Circular Economy (CE) Strategies and Practices

    Sustainability is a word and science that is usually associated with development and denotes various connotations such as “living within means”, “balance between spaces”, “responsible consumption”, “ability to exist constantly”, etc. The awareness of sustainability is increasing in society, which can impact environmental, economic and social dimensions of SDGs. In terms of the environmental aspect, sustainability offers a reduction in emissions and waste, while regarding the economic aspect, it contributes to creating new opportunities for organisations through new regulations. From the societal perspective, sustainability creates the opportunity for a sharing economy [1]. Generally, it means the capacity for the biosphere and human civilisation to co-exist and focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations [2]. With the issues of development, sustainability is a central concept of discussion. The academic debates and practices in this domain are mixed, partly because of the sustainability dimensions, which are catalogued and somewhat unequally addressed [3]. However, it is parallel to enduring socio-economic development.
    In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) defined sustainability for the first time as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” [4][5][6][7]. It promotes building towards an inclusive, resilient and sustainable future for people and planet through fighting against poverty [8][9]. It is also considered as an umbrella concept that incorporates “development” in its approach, methods and techniques. There is a functional relationship between sustainability, business and development that is a crucial part of the CE. As a new socio-economic and business phenomenon, CE is a business model [10] that focuses on recycling, reduction and re-use. It involves the shift of existing reserves to renewable energy sources; this then creates economic, natural and social capital, and an environmentally friendly atmosphere for the development of a just society [11].
    The CE concept is opposite of a “take-make-use-dispose” pattern of growth and is based on the 6R principles of reuse, recycle, redesign, remanufacture, reduce and recover [12][13]. This concept is based on the closed loop principle of a natural ecosystem, where there ideally exists no waste output; all input and waste output enter the circle of the ecosystem that essentially extends the life cycle of products [14]. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), the CE is an “industrial system that is regenerative and restorative by design, rethinks products and services to design out waste, and negative impacts and builds economic, social and natural capital” [15]. It emphasises that there is a recognition of the economy needing to work efficiently at all levels—both locally and globally for individuals, organisations and businesses. The EMF states that “a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focussing on positive society-wide benefits and entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, and designing waste out of the system” [15].
    According to Bocken et al. [16], CE advocates systems of closing, slowing and narrowing the loop. Closing the loop includes cradle-to-cradle material, through a process of recycling, reuse, remanufacture and maintenance. This is to prevent entering the disposal stage [17]. Narrowing the loop would adopt fewer resources in a product with higher efficiency. An example of a closing and narrowing the loop is Evian plastic bottles [18]. FFC Information Solution Private Limited (2020) stated that Evian had removed the plastic label on their new product design and manufactured a new bottle with recycled bottle material [19]. Therefore, the material loop is narrowed and closed. Reducing material flow serves to lengthen the product life duration via product enhancement [20]. Apple Inc., California, USA, is a case in point, which is constantly developing robust materials, such as screens and batteries, to increase its product life from usage to disposal [20].
    The current economic situation and activities, both in terms of capacity and format, pose a serious threat to sustainability [21][22][23]. They are traditionally based on the “take-make-use-dispose” pattern with wider consumption of natural resources. Therefore, the transition from a linear economy to a CE is the need of the hour. From a business perspective, the transition to a CE has significant impact on economic growth in the global economies [24][25]. With respect to economic reforms, the transition of CE also influences environmental and research policies in organisations. Ramani [13] claims that the “Persistent deterioration of natural resources, greater contamination of air, water and soil, diminishing biodiversity, emergence of new types of pathogens, climate change and heightened fragility of human health (even when longevity is increased) are being noted”. These phenomena will have serious impact on sustainability goals.
    Empirical studies by EMF [15] assert that CE designs, innovative business models, reverse cycles and enabling conditions are the essential building blocks for the transition to CE. The areas of circular design include material selection, standardised components, designed-to-last products, design for easy end-of-life sorting, separation or reuse of products and materials and design-for-manufacturing criteria that consider possible useful applications of by-products and wastes. Innovative business models are always profitable, and initiatives will inspire other players and will be copied and expanded geographically.
    Reverse cycles are new, requiring additional skills for the material decomposition and back into the industrial production system. This includes delivery chain logistics, sorting, warehousing, risk management, power generation and even molecular biology and polymer chemistry [17]. With improved collection and treatment of wastes, and more robust segmentation of end-of-life products, the leakage of materials out of the system will decrease. This, in turn, would promote the economics of circular design. In addition, market mechanisms need to play a prominent role to introduce CE principles, reinforced by policymakers, educational institutions and popular opinion leaders, for the widespread reuse of materials and higher resource productivity to become more commonplace [26][27][28][29]. Other factors such as collaboration, reviewing enticements, creating and implementing an appropriate set of international environmental rules, driving upscale fast and access to financing could further improve CE principles.

    2. SDGs Status and Current Global Trends

    The review of debates, documents and reports of SDGs so far generally indicates the gulf of difference between the set targets and achievements and the trend is far from the development path [30]. As we can see, economic growth and prosperity have depleted the world’s natural resources and environment at an unprecedented speed. All around us, we can observe the consequences of climate change [5]. It is essential to push back these trends by transforming the current development path. Various discussions and reports of SDGs have provided ample information to countries to create a new development path [31]. Some recommendations are worth mentioning here, such as leave no one behind, transform economics for jobs, build peace and accountable institutions, focus on sustainability—environmental, economic and socio-political—and try to forge new global partnerships, free from conflicts and tensions [2]. The themes have prioritised marginalised and underrepresented groups to provide a level playing field.
    On a national level, each country needs to create its own development path, balancing both the SDG philosophy and the specific constraints and potential of the nation. In comparison with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs provide greater autonomy and flexibility for national governments. More specifically, the SDGs provide a valuable opportunity for the countries to shift towards an inclusive, fair and sustainable development path. The UN’s list of sustainable goals and targets help to highlight the status of the SDGs and track progress.

    3. Conceptual Framework of Circular Economy for SDGs

    In order to achieve the SDGs targets, governments must initiate and deliver various economic activities as a means of promoting the sustainability approach [32]. Specifically, there are shared premises among multiple SDGs: 7 on energy, 8 on economic growth, 11 on sustainable cities, 12 on sustainable consumption and production, 13 on climate change, 14 on oceans and 15 on life on land that links to CE. According to General Assembly and ECOSOC Joint Meeting [31], this is a system of economy in which waste and pollution do not exist by designing and producing products and services and consumption of resources. This is argued to be considered as compulsory as it could reduce global emissions by 3.6 billion tons per year by 2030. Thomson argues that “embedding the principles and practices of the circular economy into consumption and production regimes will be the key transition for achieving the SDGs” [33].
    Global, regional and local legislation such as policies, rules and regulations and procedures and operational guidelines have a profound influence on SDG target achievements and the realisation of goals. The EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan and the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform at a regional level, Nigeria’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) operational guidelines at a national level and the EU’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China at an international level are cases in point. These support progress towards the 2030 agenda. The importance of business interest and stakeholder activism for a CE cannot be undermined. Daly reports in her study [34] focussing on the US that “the transition to a circular economy will be driven by business interest rather than national regulations”.
    Based on the above discussions, it is clear that there is a tight relationship between CE and the implementation plan for SDGs. This relationship can be conceptualised through a framework as proposed in Figure 1. From the figure, it is noticed that there are clear interrelationships or interdependencies between CE and SDG target achievements. It is also visible that SDGs can be achieved through CE by adopting/following several basic principles such as government policies and guidelines, interaction/partnership between government and private stakeholders and mind-set for circular business interests. From a policy perspective, the government of an individual country must propose and implement necessary rules and regulations to achieve SDG targets. Moreover, there must be tight interactions or coordination between government stakeholders and private organisations with respect to policy implementation to achieve SDGs. Furthermore, to successfully achieve SGDs, there must be an established mindset that supports the circularity phenomenon among business enterprises.
    Sustainability 13 11455 g001
    Figure 1. Conceptual framework of CE for SDGs.

    This entry is adapted from 10.3390/su132011455


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