How should technology be at the core of sustainability initiatives?

In recent months, concerns over climate change have reached a tipping point, not just in Singapore but  across the globe. 

At the launch of Ecosperity Week by Temasek in September, President Halimah Yacob highlighted the  urgency for corporates to take action against climate change, as it can wreak catastrophic and  irreversible damage on societies and economies if left unchecked. Separately, BlackRock Inc’s Vice  Chairman, Philipp Hildebrand, also warned that ignoring the impacts of climate change may cost the  global economy 25% of its GDP over the next couple of decades. 

Today, with the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic over and countries transitioning into their respective endemic strategies, companies have started to bring their sustainability goals back into focus, making  bolder commitments to ensure that they are on track to meet their climate action goals. 

However, with the digitalisation wave sweeping across the globe and showing no imminent signs of  slowing, technology can be both a bane and a boon to climate change efforts.  

On one hand, while the energy that goes into keeping digital devices and cloud services running  contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions, the power of technology can also be harnessed for  good in the global fight against climate change. From the use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI)  to make a wide range of industrial processes more efficient, to the use of next-generation generators  to produce clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to the use of technology for the  recycling of plastics, technology can play a key role to support sustainability initiatives and accelerate  action against climate change for corporates in a number of ways. 

Using technology to create a more sustainable ecosystem  

With innovations in data analytics, AI, and Machine Learning (ML), organisations across the globe can  now get hold of deeper insights in real time and streamline their business processes. Data points  collected can also be used to identify opportunities in the manufacturing and supply chain systems to  reduce environmental impact. 

Other than using technology to enhance business efficiency, companies where suppliers and logistics  partners are integral to their overall business can play a bigger role in rallying their partners along to  reduce environmental impact. This can be done by applying technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions throughout the supply chain, encouraging resource recycling, chemical substance  management, and biodiversity conservation, thereby ensuring a more effective utilisation and  procurement of resources. 

Organisations can also set up Procurement Guidelines, where suppliers are requested to produce goods  and products that reduce environmental load throughout the entire supply chain. Additionally,  organisations can request that suppliers not only deliver outstanding quality and technologies, but to  also fulfil their social responsibilities in areas including clean procurement and green procurement. 

Using technology to create clean and reusable energy 

While many corporates have committed to adopting renewable energy sources and net zero carbon  emissions, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind have its drawbacks including large output  variations and the lack of capabilities to adjust power generation to cope with demand. Moreover, such power generation requires a system to store surplus power in storage batteries or via other methods  and compensate for power shortages. 

With technology however, it is now possible for us to draw energy from sources such as hydrogen. With  the help of research and development, hydrogen, the most abundant clean fuel in the universe, can be  used as a next generation energy source.  

At Panasonic, we are constantly working on improving our environmental technologies to increase the  overall amount of energy created and the size of contribution toward energy savings. Our hydrogen  fuel cell generators is an example of how power can be generated through chemical reaction with high purity hydrogen and oxygen in the air. This improved generator can not only achieve electrical efficiency  but supply 100% of the electricity consumed in business activities. 

By accelerating the shift from fossil fuels towards efficient clean energy sources, resources can now be  more effectively utilised, while contributing to overall carbon dioxide reduction to support global action  against climate change. 

Using technology to recycle resources and reduce waste  

Sourcing new materials for the production of mass consumer goods not only impact our global  environment but can also cause the depletion of mineral resources and sharp increase in material prices. However, the use of technology today has made it possible for companies to recycle as much of the  resources as possible, thereby reducing the amount of new materials used and waste generated.  

An example is Panasonic’s ‘Product to Product’ concept, which allows us to extract plastics from  products such as televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners at the end of their lifecycle, and recycle  them into materials to be used in other household appliances.  

A second example is the use of sand, a core manufacturing case component for compressors used in  refrigerators that is conventionally discarded and sent to landfills. With technology, it is now possible  to treat and reuse sand in the production process and as construction materials. This reduces the  amount of waste and revenue-generating waste collected, keeping final disposal to an absolute  minimum.  

As the rate of digitalisation continues to accelerate, business leaders will need to think about how they  are using the technologies that they have access to, as part of the collective action against climate  change. With technology having the potential to reduce carbon emissions and accelerate progress in  the transition to a circular economy, a greater focus should be placed in exploring the many possibilities  of harnessing technology in developing a more sustainable future.