What role will tech play in sustainability for businesses

From sustainable energy sources to adopting alternative resources, it can help adopt economic, environmental practices

By Rajaneesh Kini
Published: Friday 14 October 2022
Technology is becoming crucial for businesses in furthering their sustainability movement. Photo:iStock
Technology is becoming crucial for businesses in furthering their sustainability movement. Photo:iStock Technology is becoming crucial for businesses in furthering their sustainability movement. Photo:iStock

Natural resources are depleting at an alarming rate and it has become crucial for corporations to follow sustainability models to conduct their daily operations. Technology will help with the way forward for sustainable solutions. 

Global material usage will double from 92 million tonnes to 196 million tonnes and greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 43 per cent by 2060, the World Bank has estimated. 

The triple bottom line, which comprises people, the planet and profit, has become a significant talking point among organisations. 

Read more: Sustainability is not as new an idea as you might think—It’s more than 300 years old

The applications of sustainability are cut across industries. Manufacturing, oil and gas, shipping, agriculture, mining, consumer packaged goods and infrastructure development industries are leading the way by making significant use of digital technologies to monitor and implement sustainable solutions.

A combination of these technologies is helping reduce businesses’ carbon footprint significantly and optimising the use of natural resources. 

A research report by multinational technology company Cyient, in collaboration with research firm Everest Group looked into sustainability megatrends. 

The report titled Mirror into the Megatrends: Technology-Driven Disruptions that will Define the Decade mentioned some areas where technology can play a key role in enabling sustainability in businesses. Big corporations to small and mid-sized businesses can invest in tech in these areas. 

Alternative energy sources:

  • Natural resource conservation and shift to alternative energy sources to reduce the pressure on non-renewable energy sources
  • Shift to electric mobility and vehicle-to-grid use cases
  • Green micro-grids for power supply

Reduction in carbon footprint:

  • The use of the internet of things (IoT) to track and optimise different transport modes and routes
  • Construction of carbon-neutral offices, ports, manufacturing sites, etc
  • Use of blockchain to improve traceability across the supply chain and minimise pollution and waste
  • Shift to low-carbon standby power systems, including battery storage and low-carbon fuel cells, as backup power for data centres
  • Green data centres
  • Development of power-efficient sensors and systems

Waste management:

  • Precision agriculture
  • Demand forecasting and supply management to reduce wastage
  • Genetic modification of crops
  • Recycling of materials and products

Green manufacturing and alternate materials:

  • Lower water consumption in manufacturing
  • Usage of recycled products
  • Sustainable packaging materials
  • Circular product designs

The future outlook for businesses

Sustainability projects in the future will be driven by a balance between technology and the environment. 

Three key aspects of these projects will be 3 R’s: 1) “Reduce” wastage and emissions; 2)“Recycle” available resources and leverage improved designs and packaging; finally 3) “Reuse” as much as possible by leveraging renewable energy sources, etc.

Read more: Half the national curricula worldwide don’t mention climate change, most teachers unsure of explaining subject: UNESCO

The trade-off between technological advances and optimised use of materials and energy will be a key focus area going forward; a few prominent business organisations are already shifting their focus to green data centres and more sustainable cloud computing. 

Overall, businesses should re-design their supply chains and adopt economic and environmental practices, ranging from using sustainable energy sources to adopting alternative resources.

Advanced data analytics, cobots and robots, mixed reality technologies and digital twins and threads will facilitate increased traceability and circular and green supply chains.

The need for reusable or green energy sources is increasing significantly owing to adoption to meet carbon reduction goals. This will continue to increase and we will see many more green energy sources being industrialised.

Technology and sustainability

Technology will have a major role to play for businesses in the adoption of sustainability. 

Advances in digital technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality and virtual reality, coupled with the demand for improved connectivity and real-time insights will help customers adopt sustainable businesses and monitor them regularly. 

It will be very important to report your sustainability index and be compliant with government regulations.

In the mining industry, for example, data analytics is used for precision mining, electric and autonomous vehicles help reduce pollution and green mining practices such as automated drilling reduce the environmental impact of mining activities.

The real-time management of production processes based on edge analytics and robotics will likely witness increased adoption.

Read more: New Battery Waste Management Rules make producers accountable for recycling

While business organisations today are primarily interested in collecting data and monitoring trends, the future will be about automating responses such that carbon footprint and water wastage are managed automatically on a real-time basis. 

A new role — a chief sustainability officer — will chart their sustainability journeys.

This decade will see more such structural changes in organisations, with environmental, social and corporate governance considerations emerging as vital parameters even for small and mid-sized businesses.

Technology is becoming crucial for businesses in furthering their sustainability movement. Many businesses can utilise such technologies to reduce the impact on the natural world. 

These technologies will definitely play a key role and evolve much better in the next decade to make the world a better place to live for future generations. 

Rajaneesh Kini is the chief technology officer of Cyient Ltd, India.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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