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2023 - the year in Sustainability

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett December 28, 2023
Summary:
The fight against climate change has become more critical this year. We round up the top sustainability stories in 2023 that show how the tech sector is working to help solve the problem

sustainability

As the world heats up, so sustainability is becoming an increasingly hot topic. The news out of this year’s COP28 was cause for very muted celebration, with its agreement on a move away from (rather than the hoped-for phasing out of) fossil fuels. But many organizations aren’t waiting for governments to lead the way or force climate action via regulation. 

Instead, they’re setting their own ambitious sustainability targets, developing their own recycling schemes, and moving to more eco-friendly ways of operating, all aided by the latest tech developments.

Subscriptions, meet Sustainability - how Zuora helps customers to meet their carbon reduction goals

You’re either all going to succeed or you're all going to fail because you're all in this together, relying heavily on each other.

Why? When it comes to managing its carbon footprint, 71% of Zuora emissions come from its supply chain, aka Scope Three emissions. So for Zuora to reduce its own footprint, the firm needs to rely on its suppliers and vendors. If one company doesn’t comply, it means dozens or hundreds of other firms won’t be able to either. 

Rachael Claudio, Director, Social Impact at Zuora, is confident the willingness is there from all the companies along its value chain to enable the business to meet its sustainability targets. She outlines the steps the firm is taking to manage its own emissions, and get insight into those of its partners and suppliers. 

DPD speeds ahead with robotic measures to deliver 2040 Net Zero target

Without question, it's becoming more and more important to consumers. Both large enterprises and small/medium enterprises have a firm view and a firm eye on the impact that delivery is making on the environment so absolutely it's the right thing to do.

Why? When it comes to the motivation for all the various sustainability measures delivery firm DPD is taking, this is prompted as much by internal interest as by customer demand. 

The firm was on track to have 4,000 EVs by the end of 2023, and to increase its current 25% of green deliveries to around 40% as it goes into 2024. It also offers a choice of 6,000 pickup points in a bid to promote its out of home delivery model, reducing emissions via reducing final mile delivery. 

As Jonathan Pratt, Director of Sales and CRM at DPD, explains, the firm believes it's what it should be doing as a business - it's the right thing to do. An important message for all organizations. 

How Panasonic aims to eliminate the equivalent of 1% of total global CO₂ emissions by 2050

Depending on what you're counting, we produce between 10,000 and one million different products. If you count all the different small components like resistors, capacitors, this makes the core equation even more difficult in counting emissions.

Why? Panasonic is in a position where the effort it takes to reduce its environmental impact could make a real difference to the global fight against climate change. By 2050, the firm is aiming to reduce and avoid over 300 Mt of CO₂ emissions – equivalent to approximately 1% of total global emissions.

However, gathering the data to achieve this target is a challenge, as Panasonic Europe’s Anne Guennewig notes, and keeping track of all the different products will keep the firm busy over the next few years. 

Samsara data key to DHL’s decarbonization targets

We need this data to not only optimize, but also find the sweet spots in each of the operations for the equipment that helps us eventually reduce emissions.

Why? DHL is another business that has set itself some ambitious sustainability targets, which could have a positive impact on reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector, if achieved. 

But as DHL’s Stephan Schablinski explains, to understand where it can replace a diesel vehicle with an electric model, the firm needs a broad range of data: how a diesel vehicle works under different climatic conditions, with driver changes, different routes and payloads; and then take these hundreds of thousands of data records and find whether the pattern meets the current capabilities of an electric vehicle. 

Getting more intelligence from its data, with the help of Samsara tech, will be vital as DHL moves to the next stage of its decarbonization strategy.

Keolis steers away from diesel to electric buses with Stratio AI tech

When we’re getting good information … we can save something like 6%-7% of energy. Less energy means less costs, but also less greenhouse gas emitted.

Why? Public transport operator Keolis is already running electric bus trials in France, and now, thanks to the latest AI tech, bus and coach journeys across the company’s network are becoming even more eco-friendly. 

Keolis is using real-time data collected via Stratio’s fleet maintenance technology to improve the efficiency of buses and coaches, reducing fuel consumption and cutting emissions.

Pierre Gosset of Keolis’ Industrial Division says that this should also result in more passengers switching from private to public modes of transport, as the latter becomes more efficient and reliable, meaning more emissions removed from the atmosphere.

London's Natural History Museum puts on display of urban nature with AWS

The value of data scales up if you can bring it together. This is giving us a consistent platform we can use for all of our UK-based natural history, science and education going forward. That's a real long-term win.

Why? The Natural History Museum has recently launched the Urban Nature Project, which will turn its five-acre site in London into a biologically diverse green space, and monitor and protect urban nature as it responds to changing conditions.

The museum’s Dr John Tweddle explains that to help it gather the huge amount of biodiversity data involved, it has teamed up with Amazon Web Services. The museum now has the technology in place to gather hundreds of thousands of observations, including environmental data from IoT sensors and visual observations of wildlife. Great news for the much-depleted London wildlife, and with potential to use the findings to support nature in other locations. 

Hush! Moving past ‘greenwashing’ through effective use of data

Why don't you create the tool for indigenous people, for people on the ground to track back to you and let you guys know, not with some random link on a website, but an entire mechanism making sure that we can track back every single step back to you?

Why? 2023 kicked off with the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January, where a hot topic was ‘green hushing’. This is the next stage on from greenwashing, where businesses pretend to be doing more than they really are to protect the environment. Green hushing is where companies instead stay very quiet about their sustainability goals to avoid scrutiny or being caught out investing in carbon-cutting schemes that aren’t as promised. 

According to Helena Gualinga of the Indigenous Youth Collective of Amazon Defenders, providing indigenous communities with tools to track and report human rights violations would be a good way to remove the temptation to green hush. 

International E-Waste Day - how Virgin Media O2 and Logitech are tackling e-waste

Everyone receives refurbished devices when they join and, once they leave, those devices go through our normal recycling process.

Why? E-waste is a huge and growing challenge, and one that needs to be addressed at all stages of a product’s lifecycle. 

Virgin Media O2 is one company taking the circularity issue seriously, and plans to become a zero-waste business by 2025.

To this end, Virgin Media O2’s Dana Haidan explains how the firm has introduced enterprise-wide recycling processes, meaning all old IT equipment and other tech is sent to a partner for recycling and reuse. 

Tackling generative AI’s sustainability problem

With generative AI, key issues are how frequently you train the model, and also how you train it … You’ll need to refresh the data regularly though and how often you do so requires a trade-off between energy costs and accuracy.

Why? The recent class of generative AI models requires a 10-100 times increase in computing power to train models over the previous generation. 

As gen AI adoption moves into the mainstream, Heather Dawe at digital transformation specialist UST expects to see sustainability become another key strand of Responsible AI frameworks. She also hopes Responsible AI standards and metrics will become part of the wider regulatory landscape in an attempt to combat greenwashing.

Climate action for business – how supplier contracts, renewable investments and circularity can make a difference

If you're optimistic about something, you're much more likely to succeed. We have to remain optimistic. It’s not a matter of choice, it's not a matter of the facts. It's a moral obligation.

Why? Take a glance at any climate-related statistic and it’s unlikely to bring much cheer. Case in point: to keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C, emissions need to be reduced to net zero by 2050. But the UN has warned that commitments made by governments fall far short of what’s required to hit these reductions. 

While the outlook can seem bleak, Salesforce’s Tim Christophersen chooses to remain an optimist about our chances of dealing with climate change.

He notes that, for the first time in his 25 years in the business, it's now much clearer what governments and businesses need to do, and what citizens can do. And everyone is starting to reinforce each other instead of passing the blame. Perhaps cause for a little optimism going into 2024.

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