The Business Times

How tech firms are powering sustainable practices

From redesigning supply chains to inventing solutions for energy efficiency, businesses can redouble their sustainability efforts as they recover from the pandemic by partnering tech companies like Dell Technologies

Published Thu, Sep 29, 2022 · 09:50 PM

One surprising discovery for many first-time visitors to Japan is the very few dustbins in public. How, one often wonders, do the city streets stay so clean?

Over the years, many in Japan have cultivated the habit of bringing their trash home. So, instead of finding a bin to dump their rubbish, they often bring it home to dispose of it.

This is also a reason why many organisations in the country have taken to the idea of a circular economy, by reducing, reusing and recycling more.

In 2021, Japan introduced ambitious environmental and sustainability goals, with a target of cutting emissions in 2030 by 46 per cent from 2013 levels. It aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.

While Western multinational companies may seem ahead in terms of their sustainability efforts, home-grown Japanese companies are now more open to partnerships with global organisations such as Dell Technologies, given the latter's expertise in sustainable business practices.

More start-ups have also begun to incorporate sustainability strategies into their company goals right from the start, a signal that sustainability is firmly taking hold in Japan's business culture.

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"Previously in Japan, sustainability was perceived as a nice-to-have while the term 'CSR' (corporate social responsibility) was merely associated with volunteer work," said Ms Emi Matsumoto, ESG Engagement Lead, Japan, Dell Technologies.

"Today, ESG has become a main priority for many organisations and forms part of their core business goals," she noted.

Japan's experience is something that is becoming common in other parts of Asia-Pacific as well. Across the region, many companies and organisations are pivoting towards more sustainable business models as they recover from the disruptions of the pandemic.

Recent climate hazards like the drought in China and flooding in South Korea have pushed people to seek change. Consumer pressure and investors of sustainable finance have also been important to efforts to turn things around.

Using technology for sustainability innovation

With the global population projected to grow to 8.5 billion by 2030, the demand on goods and services will exert enormous pressure on the planet's natural resources.

Technology, with its ability to empower innovation, plays a key role in sustainable recovery.

With solutions in energy, manufacturing, agriculture and land use, buildings, services, transportation and traffic management, they enable a smarter, more optimal use of resources.

In fact, the World Economic Forum expects digital technologies to cut global emissions by 15 per cent.

Data will also drive the push towards more sustainable cities. "With the help of hybrid cloud capabilities, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, edge computing, and as 5G goes mainstream, we can now analyse data in real-time and take immediate and calculated actions that allow us to use resources more sustainably," said Mr Andy Sim, vice-president and managing director for Singapore at Dell Technologies.

Just recently in August, Dell Technologies launched a new deep learning technology model in partnership with Australia-based conservation organisation, Citizens of The Great Barrier Reef, that would allow global citizen scientists to more quickly and accurately analyse reconnaissance images collected from the Great Barrier Reef.

By speeding up image analysis that previously solely relied on human volunteers, the model would boost recovery efforts during critical times of the year, such as the annual spawning season.

Creating a circular economy

Though a great enabler, technology is also a contributor to e-waste, which amounts to 50 million tonnes a year. Of that, only about 20 per cent is formally recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills.

With technology a part of everyday life, a sustainable recovery is not possible unless sustainable design is embedded from the start.

The key here is a circular economy. It calls for waste and pollution to be eliminated, products and materials to be circulated and nature to be regenerated.

Manufacturers should adopt a zero-waste and cost-efficient approach to guide their product design to facilitate a circular economy.

Meanwhile, companies should also provide opportunities that make it easy for customers to responsibly reuse, recycle and also repair.

Dell's Asset Recovery Services, for example, helps securely and responsibly retire old laptops and other machines while protecting both businesses and the planet.

The scheme works for any brand of hardware and Dell handles the logistics of picking up the devices. They are also "sanitised" of any data, so it does not get into the wrong hands.

Businesses get reports of the data sanitisation and disposal confirmation processes. This way, they can reinvest the value from aging equipment while doing their part for the environment.

In Singapore, the Dell Exclusive Store at VivoCity also houses a "Sustainability Feature Wall" to encourage customers to drop off their e-waste - of any brand, and any condition - to be recycled and repurposed.

"With digital technologies, we can provide a better infrastructure for all these vital processes in designing for circularity, material selection and recovery, renewables, repair, reuse and recycling, which can address some of today's most critical problems on sustainability," said Mr Amit Midha, President, Asia Pacific & Japan and Global Digital Cities, Dell Technologies.

Collaborate with multiple stakeholders

To make a real difference, businesses must commit to shrinking their carbon emissions to the smallest possible amount before considering how to offset what remains.

More than simply relying on carbon offsets, making actual progress involves dramatically reducing emissions where possible across the entire value chain.

Businesses have to look inward across their supply chain and innovate, through digital transformation and strategic collaboration with key stakeholders, including the public sector.

They have to reinvent product design, reconsider materials used and rethink how products are delivered to customers with minimal carbon emissions.

They need engineering solutions that promote energy efficiency, grow a closed-loop supply chain, and work with suppliers to decarbonise.

"Leaders need to introspectively look within their organisation to understand what it means for their company to be sustainable," said Mr Midha.

"It calls for an in-depth evaluation of their entire supply chain and business to decipher how an internal standard of sustainability can be set, and how processes can be improved to operate in a more sustainable manner," he added.

A green future is possible

For many societies, the recovery from the pandemic presents a valuable opportunity to reimagine a more sustainable future.

This collective quest is possible with technology, as the world enters the zettabyte era. However, much depends on the actions and their impact in the next decade.

Those living through this era will be the first generation to see the effects of climate change and the last that can make a change before crossing the threshold of irreversible damage to the environment.

"The past year has shown that when we come together for a common cause, we can overcome pressing societal challenges," said Mr Midha.

"Now, we have the opportunity once more to seize the moment and chart a better course for our recovery - with sustainability and resilience at its heart," he added.

Find out how societies are being reimagined in a roadmap for a green recovery:

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