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Digital transformation supports carbon emission reduction targets in business

Going digital isn’t just about making our working lives easier and more flexible. Information and communication technology (ICT) solutions have the potential to help lower global CO2 emissions by 20% by 2030, according to BT. Sarwar Khan, Head of Global Digital Sustainability at BT, shares further insights from the company.

Amidst the aftermath of the pandemic, COP26 has spurred renewed vigour for climate action. Many governments and businesses in developed markets are taking up the baton as competition intensifies in the race to hit net zero targets. While in emerging markets, like Africa, sustainability targets cannot be separated from critical and prevailing social and economic issues. As more African nations announce their “net zero economy” aspirations, this has seen a revival of importance placed on ESG (environment, sustainability and governance) at board level as these commitments transition from a risk management pillar to an operating status benchmark. And those businesses already on their digital transformation journey will be more adept to adapt to sustainability principles and stewardship.

Sarwar Khan_BT

Like digital technology adoption – which was certainly intensified during the pandemic and the impacts of the lockdowns – sustainability and decarbonisation are quickly becoming fundamental to a business’ transformation journey. And legally binding targets are shaking up sustainability drives across businesses, bringing digital technology to the forefront of a more environmentally friendly future.

There are many ways that digital technology can promote sustainable ways of working. Going digital means that there’s less need to:

  1. Travel. People can work together effectively even though they’re not in the same place.
  2. Have lots of equipment. Reduced once a business has moved to the cloud. Making it easier to shift to a Circular Economy.
  3. Use energy keeping on-premise hardware online. Organisations will benefit from the reduced consumption from equipment and ancillary services like cooling.

We’re already seeing some of the environmental benefits of digital working, as the pandemic catalysed digital transformation across the globe and in every industry. BT helped customers avoid 11.7 million tonnes of carbon in 2020 – the equivalent carbon emissions of nearly 3 million households in the UK alone!

But sustainability isn’t just about using laptops to work-from-home (WFH). It’s also about looking at a business’ entire operation to find out where they can introduce more sustainable ways of working. A recent report commissioned by BT and developed by Accenture has forecast that ICT, including 5G, can help reduce global carbon emissions from the manufacturing sector, for example, by 13% by 2030. This is equivalent to 1.3 gigatons of CO2e.

It’s clear then that ICT is a key enabler for achieving net zero. Regardless of industry, there has never been a better time to accelerate digital transformation and make strides towards achieving carbon reduction targets. Organisations pursuing both digital transformation and sustainability simultaneously are 2.5x more likely to be among tomorrow’s strongest-performing businesses than others.

One way to do this is to explore the concept of digital twins. The technology has been steadily generating growing interest over the last few years, particularly as it is increasingly being seen as a key enabler of Industry 4.0.

For people unfamiliar with the technology, a digital twin is a digital representation of a product, process, service, or ecosystem – for instance, a network simulator can be the digital twin of an actual network, a virtual machine can be the digital twin of a server etc. The digital twin representation of a resource can be used to test changes to its configuration, behaviour, and use in business processes in ways that are less destructive or intrusive than their real-life physical equivalent. There is no doubt that digital twins have the power to enable organisations to improve innovation and performance, particularly when it comes to monitoring and identifying ways to become more efficient, prevent downtimes and plan for future events. This clearly has positive implications for sustainability.

Digitalising supply chains in a sustainable way is another area in which ICT partnerships can enable digital transformation and improve business sustainability. BT, for example, will audit Deutsche Post DHL Group’s existing network to identify and remove copper cables wherever possible, replacing them with fibre connections to optimise energy consumption. DHL will also benefit from BT using 100% renewable electricity across networks helping to minimise impact and accelerate their decarbonisation journey.

Digital managed services which leverage AIOps can play an important role in monitoring networks in real time, looking at detecting breakdowns before they happen reducing waste and ensuring devices continue to operate within the ideal engineering parameters and potentially avoiding the need for an engineer visit.

Additionally, migrating digital workloads and applications across to data centres with lower PUE factors can help reduce both energy and carbon usage.

Furthermore, introducing a dynamic AI model supported by low-latency edge computing technology into the current business environment is proven to support new sustainability apps aimed at optimising energy use and unlocking significant energy savings, thereby reducing carbon emissions and initiating a fall in energy costs.

Advanced digital technologies such as IoT, Edge, Data, AI and 5G can play a critical role in helping organisations in their transition to net zero.

By way of example, we see three main areas of opportunity within traditionally carbon intense FMCG manufacturing:

  • Circularity and supply chain: Uncovering new digital solutions to help track the flow of products, components, and materials to provide improved resource management and decision making across all stages of the production cycle, and empowering consumers to make better choices. This will support the sector to address the depletion of finite resources and how to embed circularity into production processes.
  • Production resource optimisation: Exploring digital solutions that either modify existing production processes or introduce completely new breakthrough methods to become more energy and resource efficient. This could be through supporting waste reduction in production processes or harnessing additional outputs from the shop floor such as water, heat, energy.
  • Operation design and planning: Developing solutions that use data and digital technology to improve modelling, visualisation, scenario analyses and planning, with the aim to make it simpler to redesign legacy manufacturing processes with a sustainability focus.

Critically, and for every type of business, sustainability should be end-to-end and include employees, operations, customers, value chains and the industries – and digital transformation plays a key role in creating a more sustainable business and transitioning to net zero.

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