The new normal: Digital Sustainability

Software feeds sustainability

© Monitorfish, Annual Statement Rentenbank 2018


Sustainability is here to stay, necessary to limit Climate Change. That’s what some of us already thought 20 years ago. It was the time when several Sustainable Venture Capital funds (VCs) were raised. But the performance of these funds was below average and only a few survived.

1. Background: Wealth gain < Wealth loss

NASA Earth Observatory
Aral Sea abandoned boats, photograph courtesy of Ismael Alonso, Copyright 2011

3. Sustainable development: tipping point reached

3.1. Politics: Agenda 21 & Paris Agreement

To limit the negative effects of economic growth, sustainable development is required, a development “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[6]

3.2 Consumer: choosing “green” is becoming normal

Something similar can be observed on the consumer side, as a recent study shows:

3.3 Corporates: net-zero carbon by 2030–50

Companies are adapting their strategies step by step. In the past environmental departments were set up to generate sustainability reports and develop a “green” product, such as Volkswagen in the nineties with the eco-Golf. Sustainability was an “add-on” to the core business, but no fundamental changes were made to change the core business itself.

3.4 Tipping point reached — sustainability is here to stay

We have had many sustainability waves in the last 30 years. But this time everything points to one thing: sustainability is here to stay. The signs of climate change are too clear. Politicians are now also united. Consumers have woken up. Companies understand that they cannot escape this and now see sustainability more of an opportunity than a threat.

4. The Digital Revolution: unlimited access to intelligence

What characterises the digital revolution? Simply put, the Industrial Revolution gave us almost unlimited access to energy and led eventually to Climate Change.

5. Digital Sustainability — software is feeding sustainability

The real challenge facing us now is how to use digitisation for sustainable development. This challenge is the opportunity for Europe to catch up and even overtake the race with the US and Asia.

5.1 Digitise material processes and products

In the last 20 years, many products and services have already been digitised, such as music, film, writing, tickets, money, etc. These were the “low hanging fruits” of digitisation because matter was just used to transport information. These products have already been diligently harvested. The conservation of natural resources was not in mind here, but of course, they are indirectly conserved purely for economic reasons. Records, DVDs, printed newspapers, etc seem like relics of a bygone era.

5.2 Dematerialise and decarbonize material processes and products

This concerns all sectors whose products cannot be digitised per se because they are indispensably based on matter, such as mobility, food, real estate, energy, water, etc. However, matter can be used much more efficiently. Digitisation contributes to greater efficiency in two ways:

5.2.1 Everimpact & CarbonSpace — measuring GHG emissions[21]

Figure 7: © Everimpact

5.2.2 alcemy — make the production of cement and concrete more sustainable[23]

Figure 8: © Alcemy

5.2.3 MOTIONTAG — the digital twin of urban mobility[24]

Figure 9: © MOTIONTAG

5.2.4 Monitorfish — digitise aquaculture[25]

Figure 10: © Monitorfish

5.3 Develop entire new processes and products

We can also develop completely new solutions and products as the examples below show.

5.3.1 planblue — mapping the seafloor to foster a Blue Economy[26]

Figure 11: © planblue — Alexis Pey (Thalassa Marine research & Environmental awareness)

5.3.2 Beyond Meat — go beyond[27]

Figure 12: © Beyond Meat

5.3.3 Nüwiel — changing cities[30]

Figure 13: © Nüwiel

5.3.4 Leaftech — intelligent building automation[31]

Figure 14: © Leaftech

6. Summary: the Digital Sustainability Revolution

The tipping point has been passed: Sustainability is here to stay. To limit climate change and preserve our natural livelihoods, it is necessary to dematerialise and decarbonise our entire economy and move towards a sustainable way of doing business. Sounds abstract, but it becomes very concrete and real at the level of each product.

  1. Economic consequences: The political regulations fundamentally change the global economic production function — step by step. To remain competitive, companies are forced to adapt their production methods, allocate resources more efficiently and dematerialise and decarbonise their products and processes.
  2. Technical capabilities — software feeds sustainability: digitisation gives us the tools to do this. Firstly, software helps us to gain transparency about how we use resources in concrete terms. Secondly, this transparency helps us to improve the allocation of resources step by step and even enables us to develop completely new solutions.

Founder, Business Buddies — The Customised Accelerator

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