The $11 trillion tech boom that could cut emissions 20%

ICT cables, Big Data sustainability
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Information and communication technology (ITC) solutions present one opportunity to merge the booming Big Data business with more targeted sustainability goals.

As I was traveling to Bonn last month for the launch of GeSI’s SMARTer2030 report, I got on the wrong train in Cologne and ended up stranded in a small German village.

This got me thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if I had downloaded a smart transport application on my phone that would advise me on the best travel options, track my real-time location and send me alerts in case I made a mistake during my journey?

Not only would this make my trip safer and more efficient, it could also help reduce any greenhouse gas emissions associated with unforeseen travel.

Such an application probably already exists, but, as with many information and communication technology (ICT) solutions, uptake can be a challenge in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business context.

And this made me wonder: Given the numerous environmental, social and economic benefits, why aren’t companies collaborating more to adopt such information technology solutions?

Mainstreaming ICT

The latest quantification of the benefits associated with mainstreaming ICT across the economy are outlined in the SMARTer2030 report.

Launched June 9, the report is the third in a series examining the potential of this IT to contribute to sustainability progress. The report states that technology solutions such as smart grids, intelligent transport and e-health services could collectively abate global greenhouse emissions by 20 percent by 2030 — equivalent to almost 10 times the size of the sector's own footprint — while holding emissions at 2015 levels.

According to GeSI’s findings, these solutions can bring other environmental benefits, such as increasing agricultural crop yields by 30 percent or saving more than 300 trillion liters (79 trillion gallons) of water.

In addition, the report’s assessment of eight key sectors of the economy — buildings, education, energy, food, health, manufacturing, transport and logistics, and work and business — suggests that ICT solutions could generate $11 trillion in economic benefits per year while connecting 2.5 billion more people to the knowledge economy by 2030.

Reflecting on these benefits, companies can take a number of actions to move from potential to implementation with information technology solutions. These include:

  • ICT companies can increase interactions internally between their sustainability and sales teams, and externally with key business-to-business customers, to maximize the identification and uptake of related opportunities.
  • Companies from other industries more deliberately can integrate these new types of technology into their sustainability strategies and plans.
  • All companies can engage with policymakers to ensure the right incentives and policy frameworks are in place to support the application of technology solutions for sustainability.

We have both ICT and non-ICT companies in BSR’s member network, and we welcome the opportunity to connect the two in the application of these solutions for sustainability challenges — and in integrating the field into strategy.

BSR is also working on a related collaborative initiative, the Center for Technology and Sustainability, to overcome change management challenges in adopting new information technology solutions across industries. The center is developing business cases and implementation guidance for the deployment of specific solutions, and through company and stakeholder collaboration is creating credible, shared approaches to measure the impacts of tech solutions.

By deploying ICT solutions, companies dramatically can accelerate their sustainability efforts, but just as it would have taken me a little planning in advance to make the right train to Bonn, companies must embrace collaboration in advance to get on the right track.

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