United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12: RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION & PRODUCTION

Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

[Courtney Park, ABA International School, Muscat, Oman]

Most of us live in a throw-away society, where it’s cheaper and easier to replace something than to have it repaired. We order more food than we can eat, and throw away the extra. Technology is created with a purposefully short life so that we will all upgrade every couple of years. How do we break through this cycle of waste, and help students – and ourselves – to be better, more sustainable consumers? How do we embed these ideas so that the producers of tomorrow make ethical and sustainable choices and think beyond immediate profits?

It starts with stories. I recently watched and then read the quintessential SDG 12 story “The Lorax” with my six year old daughter. She asked, “Mama, why would they kill all the trees for something as silly as that thneed thingy?” My inner eco-warrior celebrated, and tried to connect it to her reality. Those new light-up cat-eared headphones that her uncle sent her – did she really need those? How did they impact the environment? Which lead us to books on Plastics, which kept the discussion going. So read these wonderful books that support SDG 12, and use them to start discussions. They will make a difference!

Plastic: past, present, and future by Eun-ju Kim, illustrated by Ji-won Lee (2019) / Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort / Korea

A fantastic picture book that takes us through the lifecycle of plastics, our dependence on plastic, the amounts of plastic we waste, and what happens to it after we throw it out. Beautiful illustrations and a narrative voice make this non-fiction book read like a story.

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales by Anne Wilson (Illustrations), Dawn Casey (Retelling) (2013) / Multicultural /  picture book

This gorgeous collection of stories from around the world are all connected to our relationship with our planet, and how to live sustainably. We can see how the generations before us lived in better harmony with their environment, and how families today are choosing green living. There are some great activities with each earth tale for readers to connect in a real and engaging way. 

Easy Peasy: Gardening for Kids by Kirsten Bradley, illustrated by Aitch (2019) / The Netherlands / Australian author, Romanian illustrator

The food sector accounts for around 30% of the world’s total energy consumption and 22% per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions (“Energy Smart Food for People and Climate”). Teaching kids to grow their own food is a great way to teach sustainability, and this gorgeous picture book will help any kid get started. There are options for indoors and outdoors, small planters to huge gardens. The language is simple and straightforward, and illustrations are so beautiful you want to jump right in and get started!

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke, illustrated by Van T. Rudd (2016) / Caribbean-Australian author, Australian illustrator / Set in Africa

When living in Tanzania, I was constantly impressed with the levels of ingenuity and creativity shown in everyday life. The Patchwork Bike is a wonderful slice of life that shows this ingenuity as two brothers use found items to build a bicycle. The illustrations are designed to look like they are drawn on cardboard boxes, and they contribute to the feel of the story.

The author and illustrator notes in the back of this picture book serve as great discussion starters, and the story would be a great introduction to some upcycling / reusing / creative building projects!

Follow Your Stuff: Who Makes It, Where Does It Come From, How Does It Get to You? By Kevin Sylvester & Michael Hlinka (2019) / Canada / Middle grade non-fiction

It’s really quite amazing just how global our global economy is. Follow Your Stuff does a phenomenal job of showing us where our stuff comes from and appreciation for the many hands along the way that helped produce it. And most likely did so for little money and in horrible working conditions. The illustrations are top-notch, and the info is easy to understand and follow. A great introduction for middle grade students (and YA, and adults to be honest!) about socio-economics and ethical purchasing power.

Trash!: On Ragpicker Children and Recycling by Gita Wolf and Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Orijit Sen (2004) / India / Middle grade

Trash! touches on so many of the SDGs, as well as the UNICEF Rights of the Child.  It is based on the real lives of children in Chennai who work as waste-pickers, although the actual stories of Velu and Jaya portrayed here are fictional. It opens middle school students eyes to issues of child labor, consumption, waste, the environment, and how we treat other people. There are sidebars with further information to help readers process some of these huge issues.

Year of the Weeds by Siddhartha Sarma (2018) / India
Blue Gold by Elizabeth Stewart (2014) / Canada

Both these YA novels address the hidden costs of our addiction to digital devices, one of which is the mining of precious metals.

Year of the Weeds is loosely based on the real-life struggle of Gonds in India whose mineral-rich sacred hills are being dug up for their bauxite deposits. Siddhartha Sarma is a charming story teller, and captures the stories of Korak, a poor young Gond farmer, alongside the wealthier Forest Officer’s daughter, Anchita in a captivating way. He weaves together the disparities of wealth and privilege with sustainability and gardening and life in rural India as a mining company moves in to take over the land. This is one of those stories that makes the invisible seen, and wakes us up to what’s happening to our world. A beautiful, thought-provoking novel, with a lot of subtle humor. It won the Neev Book Award in 2019.

NB: A wonderful picture book to use in conjunction with Year of the Weeds is The London Jungle Book (the same one that was highlighted in the post on SDG 8) as the author/illustrator Bhajju Shyam is a Gond artist and talks about their culture.

Blue Gold interweaves three stories about three individual girls on three continents — a middle-class girl in Canada who thoughtlessly sends a revealing selfie on her mobile phone, a factory worker suffering from intolerable conditions in a smartphone factory in Shenzen, China, and a young Congolese refugee in Tanzania caught up in the battle over coltan, also known as “blue gold” — which is crucial in the manufacture of electronic devices.

Unfortunately, both books might be a little hard to source.

Year of the Weeds is available as an ebook on Amazon, but physical copies can only be ordered from India at the moment; Karthika Gopalakrishnan, the librarian in Bangalore who wrote up the SDG 8 blog post, may be able to advise you on ways to get the print edition.

Blue Gold seems to be out-of-print, but it’s worth seeking out. To get a sense of the book and the author, you can watch Karthika in conversation with Elizabeth Stewart in this video from the online Neev Literature Festival recorded in November 2020.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough & Michael Braungart (2002; updated 2009) / Germany & America / YA & Adult non-fiction

The 2002 edition of the book itself is printed on synthetic paper, which sets the stage for the re-imagining of production in this brilliant book. The authors are an American architect and a German chemist, and they argue against traditional sustainability practices (like recycling), and instead propose rethinking and redesigning so that everything has a purpose and greater good. It’s a great choice for schools that offer Design courses or have a STEM program as well.

Students marvel when holding the “plastic” book — which can be read in the bathtub or at the beach — and consider the fact that the entire object can be efficiently recycled.

To create a book on par with McDonough and Braungart’s vision for a better design, Melcher Media opted to use its patented DuraBook technology for the interior pages and paperback cover. The synthetic DuraBook paper not only makes Cradle to Cradle waterproof and extremely durable, but recyclable as well—a “technical nutrient” that can be infinitely broken down and remade into new products. By using the DuraBook technology, Cradle to Cradle not only introduces a new manifesto for better manufacturing practices but also stands as an example in itself. — via Melcher Media » Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

NB: The 2009 Vintage Books edition is printed on regular paper.

Courtney Park is the Secondary School Teacher Librarian at ABA Oman International School. She’s been in the international school world for 13 years, working in Barcelona, London, Dar es Salaam, and now Muscat. Courtney is an American who is looking to repatriate this summer. She is an eco-warrior and tries every day to be a better and smarter consumer. You can find her on Twitter as @parklibrarian

Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 12: Responsible Consumption & Production? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

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