SDG #14: Conserve the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Sustainable Development Goals Blog Series
On January 1st, 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force. Over the next 15 years, with these 17 goals, countries will combine efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. In this article we aim to familiarize you with SDG #14: Life below water.
By Helen Sonneveld | 16-03-2018
SDG 14 is about protecting our oceans, seas and marine biodiversity. People are very dependent on the oceans and seas as it represents 99% of the living space on this planet1. Oceans and seas offer huge economic and social value throughout the world. As stated in a recent study by Deloitte Australia, the Great Barrier Reef alone already has the economic, social and icon asset value of $56 billion. In addition, the reef supports 64,000 jobs and contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy2.
Garbage, such as plastic bags, pet bottles and old fishing gear are contributing to the pollution of our oceans and seas. But also barely visible plastic fibers derived from synthetic cloths, or toxic chemicals disposed via wastewater have an undeniable negative impact. Synthetic fleece jackets, for example, release on average 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash3. Such contaminations eventually end up in our food chain through bioaccumulation and the concentration of toxins in larger animals, which is leading to poorer health for people eating these fish4.
The urgency to force back pollution and clean up the oceans is tremendous. According to a recent study published by the Environment Science & Technology, the ocean could end up containing one ton of plastic for every three tons of finfish if no action is taken now5.
Even though a link to the ocean and marine resources is not immediately evident for organizations, there are still be multiple reasons to engage with SDG #14.
Meet growing consumer demand
It often make us feel hopeless to watch the images of a plastic soup roughly the size of France drifting in the ocean. A number of organizations, such as The Ocean Cleanup, aim to remove this garbage, but also consumers increasingly feel the urge to stop their ‘personal contribution’ to this plastic soup. The growing demand for more environmental responsible products has led to increased performances for organizations who promote their sustainability commitment than those that don’t. Where 50% of consumers said to be willing to spend more on environmental and social friendly products and services in 2013, 66% stated their intent in 2015 and their willingness will keep rising6. Companies that tap into the opportunity of this increasing consumer base can positively improve sales when they bring products to the market that positively contribute to nature. As an example, the clothing brand G-Star launched a sustainable collection called “Raw for the Ocean”, where plastics retrieved from the shorelines where used in their apparel designs7. Also Adidas and Stella McCartney embraced the increasing demand for sustainable fashion by using recycled ocean plastic in some of their shoe designs8.
Recycling of (ocean) plastics does not only serve the purpose of meeting growing customer demands, but it will also continue to become more important for business continuity. Since sustainability and social responsibility topics move higher on the political and regulators’ agenda, it is most likely that regulations for the use of certain materials such as plastics, fibers or other toxic, become accentuated9. In order to mitigate the risk of being unable to use certain products due to sharpened regulations, it is essential to keep searching for other, innovative (raw) materials.
Use waste as a resource
A study from McKinsey & Company and the Ocean Conservancy estimated that certain plastics will still be recognizable after 400 years in the ocean10. This gives even more reason to find ways to reduce, re-use and recycle as much as possible.
Reducing waste increases efficiency and can eventually lower costs. Thinking about waste as a source for new products will encourage product designers and manufactures to think critically about their product design process. The Circular Economy encourages industries to consider existing (recycled) resources for the creation of new products (see SDG 12 for the Circular Economy concept). One of the organizations that embedded circular thinking in its business model is Auping. They strive towards a full circular organization by 2020 where all resources used in their matrasses can be disassembled and reused for new products, which lowers waste and decreases the need for raw materials11.
It has even become easier for organizations to check the recyclability of its own products and resources online. There are many websites that offer such an analyses.
It makes sense that organizations cannot adopt new recycled materials in their production processes on the short term, however, quantifying the opportunity is a good starting point. Identify, for example, the plastic usages within the value chain, and extend this study to the larger supply chain. What are the true costs of plastic disposal? Is it really necessary that pallets, boxes and single pieces of products are all wrapped up in plastic? Have the use of bioplastics be considered instead? And what packaging materials are suppliers using that can be avoided? Since the time spend on unwrapping the raw materials from plastic can be allocated as waste, it has no added value. In case plastic usage is unavoidable, switch to bioplastics and eliminate fossil based plastics, where possible.
Make value of your wastewater by using analytics
A less tangible way of pollution than plastic, is toxic substances mixed into industrial wastewater. Luckily for our European waters, legislation is strict and the fines on incorrect wastewater disposal are high12. Industries are putting much effort into wastewater cleansing, which has led – until recently – to a limited number of benefits other than sparing the environment and playing by the rules. By applying Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and analytics to wastewater measurement systems, potential defects in the production process can be predicted13. Using analytics on wastewater composition can also provide insight on the quality of your upstream process, which can improve decision-making capabilities. The slightest change in wastewater composition can be caused by unbalanced production lines, which means that processes are not optimally using their resources. Value from cleansing wastewater can therefore be gained for both operational performances as for the environment.
Sustainable Development Goals Blog Series
This blog is part of the Sustainable Development Blog Series: a blog series that highlights the 17 SDGs one by one on a biweekly basis. In these blogs you will find more information about each SDG, why it is important for your organisation to contribute to the achievement of it, and specific examples of how you can do that.
For more information about the Sustainable Development Goals and what your organisation can do to contribute, please contact Anne Huibrechtse-Truijens via email@example.com / +31882882071