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On the importance of first actions to achieve sustainable development

On the importance of first actions to achieve sustainable development

Implementing ad hoc policies to ensure sustainable development will not be uniform across the globe. Technology can help companies meet an urgent challenge.

Author : Olivier Kuziner, General Manager APAC

Date : 2 August 2023

Category : Thought Leadership

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the link between economic growth based on fossil fuel use and the volume of greenhouse gas emissions has been well established. However, as The Economist noted, a decorrelation is at work. More than 30 industrialized countries, representing 1 billion people, have managed to achieve GDP growth while reducing their emissions. Two dynamics explain this situation: the change in the nature of economies (more services, less industry) and imports that have become “greener” in nature.

Convincing middle management

In Asia, which has benefited from a phenomenon of industry transfer over the past thirty years, the contribution of technology is a major theme for companies in 2023. We are talking about the use of artificial intelligence and data science to move towards sustainable development. Three pillars are mainly concerned: procurement, supply chain and Green IT. However, if the boards of directors have a clear vision of the direction to take, there is a “soft underbelly” of middle management whose experience of actions in favor of sustainable development is, unfortunately, limited to an almost immediate negative impact on the income statement. The profitability of the necessary investments would not be there, at least in the short term. The result is a flawed situation, where the will to work for sustainable development exists in many companies, while the investments to achieve it remain the poor relations of the company.

How can we reconcile vision and immediate action?

The best way is to define a three-step methodology: measure, decide and optimize, with the help of artificial intelligence and data sciences. These tools allow companies to map the direct and indirect impacts of their operations today, including their various supply chains, product categories and markets served. Armed with this measurement, one can imagine a rapid response to begin action within weeks and then sustained, but diffuse action over the long term.

Important metrics and use cases should enable the transition from a linear economy, based on GDP growth alone, to a circular economy, where resource reuse predominates. This also means moving from an extractive to a regenerative economy, from an exploitative to a contributive economy. It should be noted that the concept of a circular economy has been around for a long time. The idea that the waste from one industry becomes the food or fuel for another is not new, but it is not sufficiently developed on the planet.

Learning to ride a bike

Once the first step has been taken, it is easy to take the quick wins and then systematize the exercise over the long term, including the company’s partners. In fact, this forms the basis of the stages recommended by the IPCC:  Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3. We start with direct emissions linked to energy consumption (Scope 1); we include the sum of emissions produced indirectly by the company when it produces or buys electricity (Scope 2); and we end by taking into account emissions from the ecosystem (Scope 3).

Decarbonizing the economy is a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. The first few turns of the pedal are uncertain, but soon the balance and the movement are in tune forever: you never forget how to ride a bicycle. The same is true for the subject of decarbonation, provided that the practice is systematized.

Let’s add that it is possible to be proactive when designing and manufacturing products. In France, a company such as MicroEJ, makes it possible to design electronic circuits whose functions are defined and modifiable by the software. In this way, the time of use of the circuit can be significantly extended while modulating the energy consumption linked to its operation. Another example of innovation linked to the decarbonization of the economy, the company Enogia manufactures turbines to produce electricity from waste heat, allowing the reuse of energy dissipated in a production cycle. These two examples prove that it is possible to be optimistic about sustainable development.

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