Why sustainability and digitization go hand in hand

Someone shaking hands with an AI through a laptop screen.
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The climate crisis we face today is the result of how we, as businesses, organizations, governments, and individuals, make decisions. We have chosen the path we are now hurtling down.

The stark reality is that to reduce carbon emissions, we must decide to both consume less energy and use energy more efficiently. On the face of it, it sounds simple, but we all know from experience that these changes often involve unpopular and challenging decisions, especially without the right data to back them up.

About the author

Peter Weckesser is Chief Digital Officer at Schneider Electric.

Digital transformation at the service of sustainability

The pandemic has been an intense accelerator of digital transformation. In addition to ensuring digital customer experiences to fuel the new normal, companies have been forced to digitize infrastructures to bring about greater efficiency, agility, and resiliency.

Today’s digital technologies can help us make decisions smarter, faster, more precisely – all of which is ultimately better for the planet - there are three key enablers:

1. Transparency of consumption

The Internet of Things (IoT) allows us to collect and analyze energy and resource data, providing insights across systems, buildings, and plants, all the way up to the enterprise-level. With this visibility, electricity and other resources stop being “commodities” that are simply delivered and used when needed. We can measure what we use and control what we measure, matching consumption to actual demand, grid performance, forecasts, and targets. This is the starting point for decarbonization.

Across manufacturing plants, critical infrastructure, electrical grids, city infrastructure, heavy process industrial environments, the IoT can advance the gains in energy efficiency enabled by connected devices. World Economic Forum analysis shows that 84% of IoT deployments are currently addressing, or have the potential to address, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined by the United Nations. The underlying premise of the research is that when you can see and measure data holistically, and in real time, you can run leaner, cleaner and more efficient operations.

2. Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

With data-driven insights we can make smart decisions based on measurements and learnings that are based on facts, rather than on intuition. With the right quality and structure of data, AI has the power to automate, or to assist us in making those decisions in real time, changing traditional business processes.

3. Digital ecosystem collaboration

While companies are reeling from a sudden shift in business methods, digital ecosystems that foster collaboration are essential for enabling companies of all sizes to become active stakeholders in tempering climate change. Yet prioritizing projects that can reduce energy use, even in inherently energy-intensive industries, can be a path toward long-term efforts to continue reducing carbon emissions.

No-one can fight climate change alone, just like no-one can innovate alone. Finding the right technology partner is often the fastest, easiest, and most profitable way to achieve ambitious sustainability goals. This is where digital ecosystems can make a big difference. They empower end-users, technology providers and integrators to come together and share data to create more insights, develop new solutions and solve efficiency and sustainability challenges.

Sustainability and digitization: converging transformations

These three key enablers have one thing in common: They have the potential to change the way businesses operate, and the way people work – in any role, at any level.

This is the crux of digital transformation. The role of a digital leader is to drive that change across the organization. The same goes for sustainability: A successful corporate sustainability strategy needs to be designed and implemented end to end, to accelerate the delivery of concrete results across the business.

What’s more, the two strategies – sustainability and digitization – must be joined at the hip. If they are, benefits will accrue: According to Accenture, companies that integrate digital and sustainable transformations into their operations and value chains are 2.5 times more likely to be among tomorrow’s best-performing businesses than those who don’t.

The time to act

Electrification and digitization are inseparable and critical parts of the fight against climate change. Open IoT platforms, leverage digitization to optimize energy and resource use for its users. Ultimately, that helps us all to accelerate our sustainability and digitization agendas.

To address this urgent crisis, businesses need to develop and deploy bold, actionable roadmaps and solutions that allow lower energy-related emissions while still meeting world’s demand for energy.

It is no secret that industrial plants, data centers, buildings, homes and transportation, bear the most weight and the opportunity to bring about climate change. Now is the time for these sectors and others to take concrete measures to steer the course toward a healthier future.

The power of today’s digital technologies, data, and AI can help businesses turbocharge this sustainability transformation. All major economic players, companies such as have an important role to play. The faster and more holistically we act, the better.

Peter Weckesser is Chief Digital Officer at Schneider Electric.