Tech showed the way during pandemic – it can do just as much for a sustainable future

There is so much of good to be derived from out-of-use technology – and that’s one way to make it part of the evolving circular economy. (Pictured here is from Apple’s recycle programme.) Image Credit: Supplied

Five years ago, the world took a stand against climate change. In a historic agreement signed in Paris by 196 nations, it was agreed to undertake a common cause to combat the global temperature rise and help increase resiliency against its impact.

But now, the world is at a crossroads with the weight of the climate crisis on our collective shoulders as we seek a better path forward. 2020 brought a pause and presented an opportunity to think differently and change course.

One of those paths forward is through technology, which we believe can play an important role in delivering an improved, sustainable, and future-proof global economy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve gained a better understanding of the world’s biggest issues and how to progress towards resilience.

Take digital forward

Digital adoption proved to be key to our survival and the sustainability of some of our most vital sectors, and these changes are here to stay. According to the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index 2020, 85 per cent of organizations in UAE and Saudi Arabia are re-inventing their business model as a result of disruption.

We know the global population is set to grow to a total of 8.5 billion by 2030. By that time, 3 billion more people will have additional purchasing power, increasing demand for products and services, placing enormous pressure on the earth’s natural systems.

Global demand is only going to grow, and industries and governments must collaborate to generate supply in an environmentally sustainable way. To do this, stakeholders across the public, private, and non-profit sectors must embrace sustainability and the concept of a circular economy.

Renewables, material recovery, re-manufacturing, and recycling can address some of today’s most critical problems, with digital technologies well positioned to provide the infrastructure for all these vital processes. The emergence of new technologies is now converging, and at a macro level, digital technologies could already help reduce global carbon emissions by up to one-third of the 50 per cent reduction required by 2030, according to World Economic Forum – through solutions in energy, agriculture and land use, buildings, and services.

Beyond new technologies, public and private sectors can advance a circular economic recovery by ensuring we are bringing out-of-use technology back into the supply chain. In offices all over the world, technology is being updated, leaving predecessors sitting unused.

It is critical that the materials are recycled and put back into the supply chain to make new products. Through an approach that places circularity at the heart of industry, the world can benefit by $4.5 trillion in economic benefits by 2030, according to WEF.

However, realising this potential will require unprecedented collaboration given that today, only 8.6 per cent of the world is circular, according to the Circularity Gap Report.

Governments show the way

There is a lot the public sector can do to support. The UAE was the first country in the region to sign the Paris agreement, and has hosted the UAE Regional Dialogue for Climate Action, further strengthening its commitment towards sustainability. Policymakers have an obligation to advance long-term sustainable ecosystems by enabling policies and services that are sustainability aligned.

The Dubai Paperless Strategy is one such initiative, where the government is aiming to go completely paper-free by 2021, eliminating more than 1 billion pieces of paper used for government transactions every year. Digital transformation will also have a role to play in mounting resource use and innovation.

Advanced AI applications, 5G and enhanced connectivity will help nudge us closer to circular business models with optimised inventory management and workflows.

Mindset reset too

Reducing waste and emissions is only one part of the equation. It needs to extend across every practice and span entire organisations. It is about cultivating a renewed mindset, leveraging innovation, and providing a platform for emerging technologies to solve some of the greatest challenges facing society.

This requires a rounded strategy based on responsible business practices and involving key stakeholders at multiple levels. Governments are now primed to lead the way through driving spending that can support, empower, and enable businesses to see the true potential in innovation – and transform the theoretical into reality.

The past year has shown that when we come together for a common cause, we can overcome pressing societal challenges. Now is the time to collaborate and put technology to work so we can build back better.

Fady Richmany

The writer is Senior Director and General Manager – UAE at Dell Technologies.