How a Circular Economy Can Help Achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

The circular economy can advance all the U.N. SDGs. Find out how.

September 25, 2023

Sustainability is often broken down into three pillars: economic viability, environmental conservation and social equity. When U.N. Member States adopted the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, they did so with all three pillars in mind. These goals are a call-to-action for the betterment of our economies, planet and people.

As business sustainability becomes more commonplace, the concept of a circular economy has also become increasingly popular. When implemented correctly, the circular economy can help advance all the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the more economic-focused goals.

What are the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals?

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for a healthier, cleaner and more equitable planet by 2030. There are 17 goals that include ending poverty, increasing access to education and healthy living, conserving our oceans and forests, and promoting sustainable industrialization and job growth.

These SDGs have gained some criticism for being too broad and not specific enough. However, while the framework may be broad, the U.N. has also broken down each goal and published relevant materials and actions to help make these goals a reality, as well as developed tools to measure SDG impact. And although the U.N. aims to make this a reality for the planet, individuals can adopt this call-to-action to help make any of these goals a reality within their own communities.

What is a circular economy?

The concept of a circular economy is central to sustainability. A circular economy centers on reuse and recycling at all stages in production, from management of resources to reduction of waste at product end-of-life.

Practical applications by businesses include creating durable, reusable products, recycling materials used in production, and using biodegradable or recyclable packaging. Individuals can support a circular economy by supporting businesses that integrate these values into their practices. This is a win-win: businesses get the maximum value from their resources, and customers get better service and satisfaction.

What SDGs are helped by a circular economy?

The SDG goals focus on society, the planet, and economies. Although the core values of a circular economy can easily impact all these goals, they are more directly linked to the goals focusing on economic growth and production.

Goals 8, 11, and 12 focus on economic growth, sustainable communities, and sustainable production and consumption, respectively, and circularity can be used as a tool to directly advance all of them. It also is related to goals concerning a more sustainable planet such as SDGs 6 on clean energy, 13 on climate change, 14 on marine resources, and 15 on forest and land resources.

Because the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are integrated, taking steps to advance one goal will almost always advance others. Adopting a circular economy as a tool to help accomplish these goals will help with all goals in one way or another.


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