Does this decade hold the keys to a circular economy?
We live in a rapidly changing world where the consequences of population growth, climate change, depletion of natural resources and pollution are of great concern. In fact, since the start of the pandemic, we have gained a better understanding of the world’s biggest issues and how to move towards resilience. We have seen technology empower businesses, with its ability to bring about profound transformation.
Today, as the world emerges from the pandemic, global demand will only grow, and industries and governments must work together to generate supply in a sustainable manner. To do this, public and private sector companies must integrate sustainability into product development and business operations.
Not a war: be sustainable and profitable
What’s interesting is that sustainability and profitability are not at war. Making green changes in business can dramatically improve bottom lines while having a bigger impact on the community around us. This transition is inevitable and is already gaining ground in the Gulf region as governments roll out policies and services aligned with sustainability.
For example, earlier this year, the UAE government introduced the UAE Circular Economy Policy which determines the country’s approach to achieving sustainable governance through infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing, food production and consumption. Elsewhere, Kuwait’s sustainable development strategy aims to produce clean fuel, build new low-emission refineries to replace aging ones, improve the energy efficiency of municipal solid waste, generate more energy from sources renewables and build rail projects that link Kuwait’s ports.
Likewise, Qatar is at the forefront of the sustainable development agenda as the country aims to mainstream and promote sustainability by involving multiple stakeholders. From green transportation solutions to solid waste management, energy and emissions policies, travel and transportation, and water management, the government is focused on promoting business and governance practices sustainable.
It’s clear that sustainability goes far beyond making environmentally friendly products. It’s about cultivating a mindset of sustainability, leveraging innovation and emerging technologies to solve some of the greatest challenges facing humanity. Therefore, we need to address the five pillars of sustainability: social, economic, environmental, cultural and technological.
This requires a comprehensive strategy based on responsible business practices involving all stakeholders at multiple levels.
The data decade has the answers
In 2015, world leaders adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 goals that address common global challenges – as a guide to achieving a sustainable and peaceful future for people and the planet by 2030. With less than a decade to make progress towards these goals, now is the time to act. The 2020s, also known as The Data Decade, will be the era of transformation where new technologies contribute to a lasting impact on society’s ability to meet the 2030 goals.
IT organizations have a particularly central role to play in this regard, as smarter and sustainable progress requires digital solutions at the grassroots. A report from the World Economic Forum and PwC shows that new technologies have the potential to advance 70% of the 169 SDG sub-goals.
To achieve global goals and halve emissions by 2030, we need to maximize technologies at different levels of development. Cloud computing, first-generation industrial automation, and 3G and 4G mobile networks, among others, are already serving as the basis for big efficiencies.
Next are 5G, AI, data innovation and drones, all of which depend on connectivity and open up whole new opportunities. With the right policy frameworks and a strong vision, these technologies will help move society towards a circular and lean economy, focused on growing the value of services while reducing waste and pollution.
It’s time to act
We have everything we need to move towards a circular economy, but time is running out. While large-scale change is needed, there are a number of ways to start taking action today:
- Identify opportunities to create immediate change in your supply chain, manufacturing processes or product design: which non-sustainable materials do you use the most and what are the viable alternatives?
- Evaluate the alternatives that offer the most value both in terms of business costs and the broader environmental impact. There are many options out there, but you can’t compromise on the quality or durability of your product.
- Take a look at companies with a similar product or use case and borrow key lessons from them. You can even adopt a collaborative mindset, locking arms with your old competitors – your entire industry may just follow your lead.
- Consider new business models that help your customers manage the use of your products more sustainably. Can you offer it as a service? Can you create responsible trade-in options?
- Always beware of unintended consequences, as alternatives can come with trade-offs that have negative and unintended effects elsewhere in the ecosphere.
The possibilities for technology to strengthen sustainability and circularity are already here, and last year showed that when we come together for a common cause, we can overcome pressing societal challenges. But if we are to achieve a circular economy on a global scale, we must act now – and we must act together.
Havier Haddad is Managing Director – Gulf at Dell Technologies