Two women sewing leather bags in a factory. Women in the background, sewing.

SDGs and Sustainable Chemistry

Sustainable Chemistry as an approach to sustainable development and the UN SDGs

Putting on the “Sustainable Chemistry” lenses can be supportive within the transformation as it addresses the need for innovative thinking, finding solutions for sound management of chemicals, safer alternatives, promotion of circular economy, more efficient recycling technologies or resource efficiency.

Do you know all 17 SDGs?

Chemistry as a double-edged sword

In 2015 the United Nations (UN) set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure a sustainable future of our planet. They address a plethora of impending, inter-connected, global megatrends such as population growth, industrialization and urbanization, food security, healthcare, water and sanitation, climate change, etc. to ensure a sustainable future development. Chemistry is both, a non-normative science, and a normative economical sector. As such both are indispensable for achieving the targets set within the 17 UN SDGs. Many products of chemical and allied industries contribute to high living standards and increasing life expectancy. However, the ever-increasing extraction of resources, waste and environmental pollution generated by their extraction, by synthesis, manufacturing, and other processes, using products and at the end of their life are in strong contrast to sustainability. Impacts on humans and the living environment have been accompanying negative trade-offs until today.[1]

Relevant SDGs

As the chemistry sector has a broad reach into foundational fields such as, among others, agriculture technology, economy and health among others. A range of SDGs and sub-targets are of high relevance for the work of the ISC3 and examples are listed below:

  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
  • SDG 5: Gender equality
  • SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production (incl. Target 12.4 Responsible management of chemicals and waste
  • SDG14: Life Below Water

The UN definition of Target 12.4: Responsible management of chemicals and waste is of high relevance for the work of the centre:

"By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment." [2]

At the ISC3 we see the sound management of chemicals and waste as one key ingredient towards the sustainable transformation of the global chemistry sector and associated sectors. Sustainable Chemistry can hereby play a major contribution, to achieve the UN SDGs.

Main activities of the Communities of Practice (CoPs)

The Secretariat of the Strategic Approach to Chemicals Management (SAICM) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) have established a Community of Practice (CoP) on Chemicals and SDGs to bring representatives from different sectors together and to create a learning network around issues related to addressing Chemicals and SDGs.

Regular input by the ISC3 at the CoPs

The ISC3 is lead team member at the SAICM “Chemicals and SDGs” and “Chemicals in Products” CoPs to discuss the linkages between chemicals management, sustainable development, and building.

Two other CoPs are the “Highly Hazardous Pesticides” CoP and “Lead in Paint” CoP.

In 2021 we presented in the webinar series of the two CoPs and among stakeholders from different sectors around the globe:

Chemicals in Products Community of Practice

The main purpose of the Chemicals in Products CoP is to support all practitioners working to improve the safety of chemicals and products (e.g. building material, toys and electronics). Representatives from different sectors regularly exchange views on various topics related to chemicals of concern.[3] In April 2021 the ISC3 gave insights on how the building and construction sector provides opportunities to improve the sector’s environmental foot print. The questions of recycling and waste material in building life cycle were also discussed in the community focusing on plastic materials used in informal sector.

Chemicals and SDGs Community of Practice

The main purpose of the Chemicals and SDGs CoP is to facilitate discussions with various stakeholders around the linkages between chemical management and the achievement of the sustainable development goals, including gender and youth engagement. In October 2021 the ISC3 gave insights into the topic of “Innovation for achieving the Chemical related SDGs”.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals illustrated with symbols


[1] Key Characteristics of Sustainable Chemistry,

[2] SDG Tracker,

[3] SAICM Knowledge,