As sustainable development becomes non-negotiable, a webinar, ‘Digital Transformation for a Sustainable Performance’, presented by Livemint in association with Microsoft, looked at the role digital transformation can play in creating new pathways for sustainability.
Humanity pumps out a staggering 51 billion metric tonnes of green house gases into the environment every year. Climate change and sustainability are no longer buzzwords. It is something that the world is moving towards as a collective.
This Earth Day, a webinar, ‘Digital Transformation for a Sustainable Performance’, presented by Livemint in association with Microsoft, discusse at length the role that digital transformation can play in creating new pathways for sustainability as enterprises become resilient in the face of tomorrow’s challenges.
“This is a planet-size challenge and will be the greatest in our lifetime. India is at a juncture where we are growing and adopting technology, and therefore we have the option to grow in a sustainable manner. Every individual needs to get informed about climate change. Then, follow four steps – take note of your carbon footprint, evaluate the ecosystem you work with, create an incentive for your teams to think about reducing your carbon footprintand finally get your employees support," said Dr Rohini Srivathsa, National Technology Officer, Microsoft India.
Now, more than ever, there is a need for convergence of Industry 4.0 technologies like AI, IoT, AR in value creation for businesses across sectors and product life cycles in support of sustainable development.
“Every company should try to make sustainable products and services – that will be the real game changer. There is a sense of urgency there," added Chaitanya Kalia, Partner, National Leader, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, EY.
Becoming carbon neutral
In rebooting our planet, technology has pressed the ‘Start button’ in transforming the way teams work, or individuals run a business by enhancing customer experience, streamlining operations, or creating new business models.
As per Dr. Srivathsa, Microsoft set out an ambitious goal in January 2020 to become carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050 to remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. This is a bold bet — a moonshot — for Microsoft.
It can serve as an example for other businesses across the world.
“Microsoft’s pledge to become carbon negative came after nearly a decade of moving along this path. We set our first carbon emission reduction goal way back in 2009 and have worked hard towards becoming carbon neutral. But what we have realised is that this is not going to be a linear journey and we need to be aggressive," said Dr. Srivathsa.
EY, too, aims to be carbon negative this year with net zero in emissions by 2025. The need of the hour is for businesses to model themselves to become carbon negative rather than just carbon neutral. They need to take active measures to reduce their carbon footprint rather than just offset them against credits.
“Business has to grow but you need to decouple the growth from the impact on the environment. In the midst of the pandemic, the focus of people to go for services which are environment friendly is very high and that is creating an environment of acceptance even in countries like India where we don’t have a legally binding target for ourselves," said Kalia.
Role of technology
From an efficiency and flexibility perspective, digital transformation can be a major driver in this journey towards becoming a sustainable business. “Technology will play a significantly important role in bringing about sustainability. Microsoft is looking at greener technologies and trying to use these to make it sustainable," Kalia said.
Businesses are built for profit. But there are many strategies that organisations can adopt to strike a balance between revenue growth and sustainable digitization. “It has to make business sense from a revenue and cost perspective. Sustainability is good for business. Some of the examples that we have seen in our own sustainability journey is that migrating to the Cloud reduces carbon footprint. Smart buildings help reduce energy consumption by as much as 20 per cent. Limiting use of single-use packaging, remote work, switching to water efficient fixtures are all ways to bring down energy costs," said Dr. Srivathsa.
Tackling this mammoth problem can’t be done by just one organisation in isolation. It requires innovation into technology that doesn’t even exist today. “We launched a Climate Innovation Fund in 2020 that commits to invest 1 billion dollars over the next four years into innovations at a completely different scale. This is not an individual effort but a collaboration of different stakeholders from across the world. It has to be part of the ecosystem," Dr. Srivathsa further added.
Sustainability measures present incredible innovation and market opportunities across sectors. There are about 60 billion dollars that governments and utilities alone are expected to spend by 2028 on energy efficiency technologies. Precision agriculture is expected to grow to 12 billion dollars in market value by 2025
Sustainability is the future
There is a need to create an ecosystem with three dots of a triangle – technology, knowledge, and business innovation. The millennials will play a central role in the mass shift towards sustainability.
“Today, our generation looks for health information on the packaging of everything we buy. The millennials will look at environmental information, which requires a very high level of technology integration.. So, businesses need to innovate. Today, you are making a product. The question is can you transform it to make it more environment friendly," said Kalia.
Just having the technologies is not sufficient. The support of infrastructure is critical. The technology is already there. Many of the innovations, from clean energy, electric vehicles, require a government and policy-making push.
“The four focus areas within sustainability, where we believe that Microsoft can have the greatest impact, are: carbon, water, waste and ecosystems. In each one of them, technology is already playing a role. We launched an AI for Earth program in 2017 which has funded 700 organisations across 100 countries working on environmental game changing solutions. We can democratize cloud and AI technology and give it in the hands of NGOs, ecologists, conservation technologists, governments, and policy-makers around the world who are working to protect our planet," said Dr. Srivathsa.
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