Around the world, climate change has already appeared in various forms and the effects are becoming visible. 2019 witnessed a series of extreme weather events that increased in severity.
As the world continues to heat up, greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at 1.5% per year, whereas they must fall by 3–6% per year between now and 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5–2°C, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The crisis unfolding right now, a full-blown pandemic, is also indirectly linked to climate change and habitat destruction bringing wildlife closer in contact to human populations. In such a situation, there is an increased need for a fundamental shift in how we carry out our businesses.
Climate change has become an issue of vital importance that has gripped narratives in all aspects. As countries and companies scramble to restrict their emissions, new methods of reducing the carbon footprint are paramount in ensuring targets are met. Major multinationals are scrambling to tweak their approach to ensure that they are less harmful to the environment. However, these incremental changes will not reverse the significant damage already done. Instead of the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle,” more ambitious targets are required and are being pushed for. For instance, the World Economic Forum, (an international organization based in Geneva that meets annually to discuss issues of political, economic, social, or environmental concern) has asked all member companies to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or earlier.
Sustainability and digitalization are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are complementarily synergetic and positively influence value creation.
Digitization and digitalization are often confused and used indistinguishably though they are fundamentally different concepts. Digitization is simply the transformation of data into a digital format that can be processed by a computer. Digitalization however, is the process of changing a business model, creating new revenue and value producing opportunities. It’s a fundamentally different process of delivering value, which is paramount in the quest for going green. In a crisis such as the lockdowns of today, a differentiated, digitalized workspace could go a long way in keeping employees safe and ensuring business productivity. The flexibility allowed for by such a model is vital to adapt to any situation.
Going green can be any action that works towards the ultimate goal of making more environmentally friendly decisions. Digitalization, though it has the adverse impact of increasing our carbon footprint, can work in multiple ways to foster sustainability in business. For example, Industry 4.0, or the “smart factory,” uses automation and data exchange and enables higher productivity while reducing waste and conserving resources. These “factories of the future” could very well become “factories for the future” by fundamentally changing the way we produce products. Imagine factories enabled by automation and data exchange that use the minimum amount of resources and labor while maximizing output and also reducing harmful by-products.
Significant progress has already been made in the critical area of sustainability and those who haven’t started will lag behind soon.
There are numerous ways in which digitalization is being carried out to promote a more sustainable way of life. Some examples are, energy-system transformation using intelligent energy networks, reducing vehicular traffic in cities by means of shared mobility, and using digital technologies to promote a circular economy. Digitalization can transform the agricultural sector as artificial intelligence can identify the most efficient and least resource-intensive way to grow crops. Virtual spaces can enable communication, networking, and joint learning between people around the globe, thus cutting down on emission-intensive air travel and creating the basis for a global culture of cooperation. Below are some examples of Capgemini’s efforts in these fields:
Using artificial intelligence and drone technology:
Sogeti, in partnership with a client in the forestry field, has developed a Geo Satellite Intelligence (GSI) solution that works towards containing the damage done to forests by the spruce bark beetle. Using artificial intelligence, with advanced cognitive image analysis, machine learning, and deep learning, detailed maps of the movements of the beetle are created. Drone technology is used to verify the accuracy of the data relating to affected forest areas, enabling action to contain their progress.
Capgemini has been working to develop new concepts, business models, and solutions which will allow for new approaches. There is an effort to integrate photovoltaic systems to intelligent charging solutions and home energy management systems. Building these frameworks for more sustainable sources of energy enables the use of electric cars as well. Car manufacturers can use this to provide the best experience when it comes to public charging of electric cars. The service grants drivers (B2C and B2B) access to more than 110,000 charging points in 21 countries around Europe.
Capgemini is developing an innovative digital platform to offer connected and bundled mobility services to all users. Working in concert with city authorities, infrastructure and mobility partners, Capgemini has developed a concept for the new mobility unit and its initial service portfolio, including physical mobility hubs, smart parking solutions and the digital platform app.
Digital technologies available to us at this time could very well reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15%, a significant target.
Exponential technologies are those whose output per size or dollar is consistently accelerating. The classic example is the silicon chip – since the mid-1960s, the power of computer chips has doubled every 18–24 months while the price has halved. The digital sector, which accounts for a significant percentage (~1.4%) of all global emissions, is on track to cut down its emission levels, reaching a 50% reduction by 2030. Next come AI, IoT, and drones, which are technologies that foster connectivity and open up completely new opportunities using the data and mobility they provide. Enhanced connectivity is proving especially vital today as businesses struggle to maintain continuity during a pandemic. This, combined with an exponential growth in data performance, means that the sector will perform better while still reducing emissions. Using this exponential growth in performance, actions can be rapidly scaled from incremental solutions. The graph below shows how these technologies maturity will have an impact on emissions globally.
Ideally, the digital technologies available at this time could very well reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% through solutions in energy, manufacturing, agriculture and land use, buildings, services, transportation, and traffic management. Digitalization is already transforming the way we do business and the global economy reflects this.
There is growing evidence that such innovations in sustainability are rewarded by consumers, who are becoming increasingly mindful of how companies affect the environment.
As organizations scramble to protect their employees and business, technology is inevitably the way forward. Instead of a reactive approach, the firms of tomorrow could be proactive, preparing well in advance to deal with unforeseen situations. Vital next steps need to be focused on identifying the specific, proven technologies that are best suited for individual industries and building competency in them. If the targets set by the WEF are to come to fruition, there needs to be an immediate focus on this aspect of business. Not only would this foster sustainability but also cut costs, build value, and even lead to an enhanced image in the minds of consumers of a firm that is mindful of its place in society.