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In a March 2020 briefing about the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Environmental Chief Inger Anderson stated that “nature is sending us a message”. With 75% of infectious diseases coming from wildlife, deforestation accounting for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions, and current projections seeing global temperatures rising by 3-4 Celsius in the next 100 years, the message is unambiguous.
Businesses are without a doubt implicated in these statistics, and organizations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the Green Economy Coalition are attempting to keep companies accountable to a set of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards. The stakes for the planet are clear and benchmarks have been set; with this in mind, businesses need to think creatively about how to interweave sustainability and environmental awareness into their praxis in order to heed the ‘message’ being sent to us by nature. We have entered the Decade of Action, where climate change can no longer be denied, making innovation not a luxury but an urgent necessity that calls for concerted inventions and decisive action.
In this article, we present inspirations from corporations that are innovating either through strategic partnerships or by leveraging emerging technologies. These businesses are not merely complying with ESG minimum requirements but are rather tailoring their business models to be both sustainable and profitable.
The ITONICS Innovation & Sustainability Trendreport conducts a comprehensive overview of key environmental phenomena, looking at emerging opportunity spaces relating to sustainable business practices. The report also suggests a six-part framework that businesses can use to align their strategic intent to meet the needs that climate change presents.
Global consumption and global impacts require global action. Many activities related to land and its resources, especially food production and raw material extraction, are subject to global market forces. Oftentimes, the focus of discussions relating to climate change is on the industrial, energy, and transport sectors. However, understanding how land use fits into the equation is critical in seeing where companies can innovate to forge more sustainable business practices. The data paints a clear picture: agricultural land use accounts for 45% of food emissions, and roughly 70% of deforestation stems from commercial agricultural use. Add to this the fact that roughly half of the world's habitable land use is used for agriculture and the problem becomes clear.
Corporations like McDonald’s are looking to innovate their supply chain to help solve the problem. They have partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to drastically reduce deforestation in their supply chain by collaborating with beef, palm oil, and soy suppliers in at-risk areas to find smart agriculture solutions. On top of verifying that the various ingredients come from low or deforestation-free zones, the McDonald’s website highlights the objectives of the partnership are to include “[no] deforestation of primary forests or areas of high conservation value” and “no development of high carbon stock forest areas”.
The Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry is one of the key industries responsible for greenhouse gas emissions: a recent Boston Consulting Group study discovered that if the CPG sector was a country, then it would be second only to China in terms of its carbon-dioxide emissions. As a key player in this sector, Unilever has decided to take the step of developing the Sustainable Agriculture Code, whereby they mandate their suppliers to work with smallholder farmers to promote soil management strategies, thereby improving carbon sequestration and water retention while increasing agricultural production
The ITONICS Trend Radar provides actionable examples of companies ‘greening’ their supply chains whilst maximizing profitability.
With a variety of applications that can help optimize workplace efficiency, automation technology also has tangible value in improving resource efficiency and mitigating waste. In the next 10 years, applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) to environmental cases could generate over $5 trillion to the global economy, as per a report by Price Waterhouse Cooper.
As one of the biggest players in the CPG space, Walmart has begun incorporating technology in its effort to be a leader in the sustainability space. Using digital solutions such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, Walmart is helping reduce wastage and energy use whilst simultaneously improving supply chain transparency and integrity. Some of their other initiatives include shelf-scanning robots and Mobile Express returns.
Engineering firm Aurecon finds that data centers use a staggering 3% of all global electricity production, comparable to the air travel industry. Companies like Google are leveraging the use of AI to optimize their data centers to continue to work efficiently whilst using less electricity. By using AI to manage their cooling systems, Google has reported as high as 40% savings in their energy consumption.
To explore emerging Technologies that can help you implement more sustainable work processes, check out the ITONICS TechRadar.
In an article published on Deutsche Welle in January 2021, UN Environmental Chief Inger Anderson wrote that as a global community, we are “at the point of no return” and that if nations are not pushed to go beyond the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, then we may “face disaster” as a planet. In short, compliance with the bare minimum standards is not enough; innovation that furthers sustainability must become the new benchmark. This applies to businesses as well.
There is no denying that we have entered the Decade of Action. It is also clear that businesses need to explore ways to prioritize sustainability through innovation to ensure that they deliver triple bottom line growth.
The ITONICS Sustainability Radar is the perfect platform to help businesses think through how they can incorporate sustainability into their purpose, processes and products. The Sustainability Radar also provides key consumer sentiments regarding sustainability, pertinent ecological phenomena as well as policies and laws which will influence the future of ESG.
Check it out here to see how you can infuse sustainability into your business practices.