We as a society, we are becoming increasingly conscious of how our individual and collective decision-making affects our planet. This is having a profound influence how companies conduct their business. For organisations to survive, sustainability needs to underpin all they do as opposed to being a marketing buzzword included in a CSR policy.
Not even 20 years ago, sustainability was something that was discussed very cautiously, kept under the radar and seen as an infringement on companies’ profitability and potential. Business owners argued that the corporate transition to a greener way of doing things was costly and slow on delivering results. Even if a move in this direction resulted in mutual advancement, thinking green was not seen as a business opportunity but merely as part of a social responsibility policy.
The global economy rebuilt itself after taking a big hit in 2007. The recession ignited a collective desire for corporate and social transformation which has been the key to the technological innovation of the last decade.
According to Johan Rockström, a professor in Environmental Science and the Executive Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre, humanity has already exceeded 4 of the 9 planetary boundaries that define a “safe operating space” for life. We as a society have become acutely aware of how our individual and collective decision making affects our planet. The big data findings from the Ethical Consumer Market Report 2018 show that responsible consumerism is going mainstream, people now more than ever are actively seeking out environmentally responsible brands to engage with.
The research paper published in Feb 2019 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that 86% of adults in Ireland recognise the value and the importance of the environment. ‘It is clear to us from our everyday interactions, that the public, business and broader society have a greater understanding of the link between reduced emissions and a clean environment, and our health, our wellbeing, our economy, our very culture.’ - Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA comments.
And while the adults are playing catch up, children are taking matters into their own hands - coming together to raise awareness and add further pressure for change. This March, inspired by a young environmental activist Greta Thunberg, thousands of school students marched the streets in global School Strike for Climate Action.
Even if changing slowly, the market can really no longer ignore our collective demand for greener products and services. Businesses finally have to accept that they won’t be able to provide for escalating consumer needs exclusively through a linear increase in production. Sustainability is being now being placed at the forefront of business objectives.
The report published on the 1st of February 2019 by a global investment management firm BlackRock shows that around $760bn was invested in dedicated sustainable funds across the US and Europe last year. To meet this growing demand for green finance products, more than 100 new sustainable mutual funds were reportedly established in the US alone between 2015 and 2017.
“For years, many investors saw sustainable investing as a trade-off - they viewed it as a sacrifice of value for ‘values’,” Blackrock's global head of sustainable investing, Brian Deese stated. “There is now increasing awareness that material sustainability-related factors can be tied to a company’s long-term growth potential. This makes sustainable investing something investors can no longer afford to ignore.” (via Edie.net)
Free of legacy administrative systems and processes, tech-led startups don’t need to retrofit sustainability into their vision and methodology. Full consideration of their corporate environmental impact is already embedded into their business model and mindset. As a result, they are well-placed to adhere to growing industry standards for efficiency, regulation and standardisation.
In January 2018, The World Economic Forum(WEF) released its Internet of Things Guidelines for Sustainability. They investigated 643 applications of IoT technology and discovered that over 80 per cent of these ventures were tackling, or being able to tackle the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The study further considers a possibility of IoT having development benefits that could be maximised without compromising the commercial viability. The paper also states, that the reason why the IoT could become a game-changer for sustainability lies in its technology, which reaches people and objects that it could previously not reach.
AI newcomers are bringing even more excitement to the market, offering competencies that are hard to match by the traditional market players. AI solutions are generating additional revenues from better products that are not only efficient, inclusive, transparent and automated, but their main value proposition is formed with environmental impact in mind.
In a report (pdf) published in January 2018, PricewaterhouseCoopers outlined 80 ways in which AI technologies could be adapted to support the environment and our communities. These included:
To drive more innovation in this area, Google announced a $25m Google AI Impact challenge fund last October to inspire the development of AI in order to address societal and environmental issues.
There is no doubt it is an exciting and critical time for us as a society. Technology is here to facilitate us as we strive to preserve the global ecosystem and secure a safe and prosperous future for our species. It is important to recognise however, the change we aim to accomplish collectively is inseparable from the individual daily choices we make as consumers.