Every year, on April 22, World Earth Day is celebrated, a moment of reflection on the theme of environmental sustainability as the only way to safeguard the planet and protect future generations. The event aims to make people, organizations, bodies, and governments aware of the need to renew the ecological balance through everyone’s contribution.
The topic is vast because it covers factors such as individual conduct and company policies, up to international paths to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) set by the UN countries for 2030.
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Digital Sustainability and smart paradigms
When we hear about Smart Working, Smart City, Smart Energy, Smart Mobility, and Smart Health, we talk about digital sustainability. As states move towards 2030, digital sustainability is making headway. In other words, it is becoming increasingly clear that digital is not limited to reducing waste and tackling desirable inefficiencies – but allows for creating new sustainable models of life, work, and business.
Being still quite far from consolidated Smart Health or Smart City models, we can deepen Smart Working, with which many companies found themselves coexisting at the beginning of 2020, going from 590,000 to more than 5 million Smart Workers (Italy) in a handful of months. Agile working is digitally enabled: video calls, collaboration platforms, and remote desktop systems are now part of everyday routine and create a work paradigm destined to last over time.
Companies enable smart working to maximize efficiency and growth. Agile working allows them to save on space and property services (facility management), but it also makes resources more productive, increases engagement, and (finally) allows the whole company to be brought together under a single virtual roof, which it used to be impossible due to organizational silos.
Smart Working is a shining example of digital sustainability: people significantly reduce travel, contributing to a reduction in emissions; events become virtual and do not require constant travel; meetings are held from home. The more digitally mature companies allow employees to book a workstation not only in the company but also in the coworking spaces close to home so as to recover the value of sociality and, in any case, reduce emissions and environmental impact.
Digital Sustainability and the Role of the Cloud
Nowadays, some technologies have a powerful (and beneficial) impact on environmental sustainability.
Let’s think about the cloud. One of the key elements is the sharing of resources. Instead of a data center for each company, oversized compared to real needs (we speak of over-provisioning), the cloud responds with centralized structures that serve various customers and exploit various maximize its infrastructure resources.
Results: economies of scale allow providers to provide services in an as-a-service manner, and Customers (companies) no longer have to buy servers, storage, backup systems, room cooling, and perhaps auxiliary generators to obtain high availability of systems. The environmental impact of the cloud model is decidedly diluted compared to an infinite number of data centers scattered everywhere, not to mention that specialized providers constantly update their technologies for efficiency issues (which in itself has a positive impact) and adaptation to their own environmental policies.
The technology that cuts down on waste
Usually, companies undertake digital transformation to streamline processes. In the second step, they realize the possibility of being more agile on the market and of being able to develop innovative business models, but in fact, they start from efficiency or from the reduction of waste (of time, materials, costs, resources). This, too, makes digital sustainability.
The power of Analytics to avoid production surpluses
Far from reaching the perfection of the above example, data analysis powered by artificial intelligence allows companies to forecast demand more accurately and adjust purchasing and production plans accordingly. In an ideal world, companies can satisfy 100% of demand and never create a different product. The unsold is not just fixed capital but a waste of environmental resources and the production of residues harmful to the planet.
Digital traceability of supply chains
Supply chains are becoming extremely complex and global. Keeping track (traceability) of all movements of raw materials, semi-finished products, and products is increasingly complex, yet only transparency leads to all the necessary optimizations. Think of how many fewer emissions the optimization of transport flows could lead to. This optimization is at the basis of the concept of circular economy, closely connected to digital sustainability.
The paperless office
The digitization of the office is one of the first manifestations of digital transformation, yet companies still need to implement it. Except for electronic invoices, which have been mandatory since 2019, many documents are still paper: transport documents (DDT), international invoices, or contracts of various kinds. Yet, the impact of the paperless office on sustainability is extraordinary: less paper, fewer environments to manage, fewer errors, and more automation, with consequent benefits for both the company and our planet.