Technology and sustainable practice. It’s not rocket science

Natalie Simmons
March 29, 2023

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its final “synthesis report” - the result of 6 years of work by hundreds of scientists. The news isn’t good. Emissions reduction needs to be, in their words,  "deep, rapid and sustained".

I’d like to start this article with some astounding numbers.

Back in October of 2021, Krishna Ramanujan of Cornell University wrote that of the 88,125 climate-related studies surveyed, more than 99.9% agree that climate change is mainly caused by humans. More than 99.9%.

Around the same time, VICE News partnered with the Guardian and pollster YouGov and, among other climate related data uncovered in their poll, it revealed that 45% of Americans don’t believe that humans cause climate change. Sigh. Take heart that in Australia, that number is much lower - 2% deniers, 5% sceptics, 16% unconvinced. Phew!

So with such a chasmic disconnect between public perception of undeniable data, not to mention the urgency that the IPCC is pressing for action, when I started thinking about the role technology plays in sustainable practice, I immediately leant towards the communication problem. The message is out there. Why isn’t it landing? 

For me, the answer is a combination of context and engagement. We must frame climate action within a context that makes it personal. We also can leverage technology to bring true engagement to that context. We need to make it active.

The main causes of environmental impact within a company are related to its energy use. There’s also waste generation, water use, supply chain impacts, and land use. For decades, boards, management, leadership have known how to reduce these impacts. The adoption of sustainable practices and the implementation of environmental management systems that promote resource efficiency, waste reduction, and sustainable sourcing is within reach. And maybe technology can get us there.

Here are 6 ways that technology can assist businesses in promoting sustainability. You may be familiar with some of all of these.

  1. Energy efficiency: Technology exists that monitors and manages energy consumption. Whether it’s integrating with a large building’s BMS, or additional sensors for occupancy, HVAC use, and others, technology can identify areas where energy usage can be reduced, and optimise operations to minimise their carbon footprint.
  2. Renewable energy: Technology can help businesses transition to renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.
  3. Waste management: Tools exist to measure and manage waste production, recycling, and disposal.
  4. Supply chain optimization: Businesses who track their supply chains, from raw materials to finished products, can identify areas where waste and emissions can be reduced, and to ensure that products are ethically sourced.
  5. Virtual collaboration: Reduces the need for business travel, allows employees to collaborate remotely, and mitigates carbon emissions from transportation.
  6. Data analysis: Technology can provide businesses with real-time data and analytics to track their sustainability progress, identify areas for improvement, and make informed decisions to reduce their environmental impact.

No revelations here. The obstacle has been cost, but not any more.

Economists agree that by balancing economic, social, and environmental factors in a rigorous sustainability strategy, sustainable profit is possible. A sustainable business model takes into account the long-term impacts of a company's activities on society, the environment, and its stakeholders. 

In their article on sustainability trends that will drive change in 2023, S&P Global begin by articulating the challenge that is no doubt in some leaders’ minds:

“The durability of sustainable employment practices, implemented in recent years in response to significant shifts in workforce expectations, will be challenged by recessionary risks in many markets.”

Even so, companies that prioritise sustainability can gain a competitive advantage by reducing their costs, improving their reputation, and increasing their brand value. I talk about this often. And as the case studies mount, my hope is that the momentum for change continues within the corporate sector. And it stands to reason that if a company can reduce its energy, water and waste, it will reduce its costs.

In addition, companies that prioritise sustainability can attract and retain customers who value social and environmental responsibility, and who are willing to pay a premium for products that align with their values. By building trust and loyalty with customers, companies can increase their market share, generate long-term revenue growth, and enhance their brand value.

We all know that  reducing global warming requires a global coordinated effort from governments, businesses, and individuals. But I think that can be a dangerous statement to make, on account of the unintended outcome that decision makers can tend to wait for consensus. Instead, companies who shift to a longer term, sustainable view, in spite of the challenges that 2023 looks like it could throw at them, will not only weather any storm, but positively impact the environment too.

Where can technology make the most difference? If the past months of PR and media coverage of AI is anything to go by, I think AI could make an incredible impact. Contrary to the negative impact of AI on creative content that my colleague Ben Weir wrote about in his article, AI has a major role to play in the areas of monitoring, analytics and optimisation. AI, when in the hands of experts, has yielded incredible results. Large commercial properties are using up to 40% less electricity and gas. AI already provides insights into future climate trends, including identifying areas that may be most vulnerable to climate change, helping governments and financial institutions calculate all sorts of risk factors. In the areas of WIldlife conservation, sustainable agriculture, fleet management, and pollution control, AI is finding its valued place.

Technology is a tool. It is a constantly evolving innovation. Only when in the hands of bold, sustainability-focused humans does it innovate. This is the crucial distinction. Reach out to a Barefoot Citizens Consulting team member to begin your sustainability journey. Engaging and empowering your people, wherever they work in your organisation is undoubtedly the best way to build purpose into your business, and create the positive impact your stakeholders are expecting of you.