IT Sustainability Think Tank: Sustainable innovation key to carbon emissions transparency


Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability is fast becoming a prerequisite for successful business partnerships, but many firms struggle to demonstrate their sustainability success to partners, customers and stakeholders.

This is where sustainable innovation will play a key role in helping CIOs and IT leaders to not only cut their carbon emissions, but demonstrate their own sustainability success as well.

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Businesses are presently expected to demonstrate their commitment to fulfilling environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria to win new business, meet investor expectations and maintain levels of custom and competitiveness.

 A PwC survey revealed that an assessment of ESG factors is now standard practice as part of the investment deal process, and while committing to sustainability is key, demonstrating a commitment to meeting this criterion is proving to be a challenge.

This is particularly the case for businesses that lack the mechanisms necessary to report on their environmental impact.

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This is a cause for concern. Research shows that 61% of consumers are influenced by a company’s transparency about its carbon footprint and environmental impact, but a fifth (21%) of businesses struggle to measure this.

Businesses are therefore at risk of losing commercial opportunities if they lack the tools to navigate regulatory hurdles and meet fluctuating sustainability demands and expectations. This inevitably puts greater pressure on CIOs and IT leaders to embrace offerings that can support sales and business development teams to win new business and track carbon emissions.

An area where businesses typically fall short is their supply chain. Digital Catapult’s Digital Supply Chain Hub aims to make supply chains more sustainable by leveraging advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), distributed ledger technology (DLT) and the industrial internet of things (IIOT).

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Through the Digital Supply Chain Hub, Digital Catapult has provided CIOs and IT leaders with the tools to track, assess and understand their organisations’ carbon footprint.

This makes it easier for CIOs to share information with key audiences, allowing them to track performance and share key metrics with stakeholders too, demonstrating the value of sustainable innovation on carbon emissions transparency.

Making sure businesses track the right metric 

As the responsibility for businesses to meet their environmental objectives falls more heavily on CIOs and IT leaders, it is crucial to track the right metrics.

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By doing so, they gain insights that can inform changes to business operations aimed at reducing carbon emissions and minimising environmental impact.

 While carbon emissions are a fundamental metric to monitor, it is essential to broaden the scope to include other key factors such as energy consumption and resource usage. Tracking these additional metrics provides a comprehensive understanding of the environmental footprint of IT operations and enables organisations to implement targeted strategies for improved sustainability and efficiency.

Accurately measuring the environmental impact of IT operations presents a challenge. This is because obtaining comprehensive data on energy consumption, carbon emissions, and resource usage requires sophisticated monitoring systems and collaboration across various departments.

Fluctuating workloads, dynamic infrastructure configurations, and evolving technologies add complexity to data collection efforts, which is why Digital Catapult developed the Eco-Meter to measure the carbon footprint of products using advanced digital technologies.

By leveraging sensors and streaming data on energy consumption and process variables, the EcoMeter provides real-time visualisation of carbon footprint data, enabling businesses to make informed decisions and to plan production processes with sustainability in mind.

The EcoMeter holds the potential to be offered as a service to wider industry, empowering CIOs and IT leaders to reduce emissions and enhance sustainability, further demonstrating the value of sustainable innovation to enable carbon emissions transparency in the digital age.

Learning how to leverage advanced digital technologies

Advanced digital technologies play a crucial role in boosting sustainability efforts by offering innovative solutions to monitor and enhance energy consumption.

AI and data analytics, for example, hold significant potential for optimising energy efficiency and identifying areas for improvement. By analysing large datasets, AI algorithms can identify patterns, predict future energy needs, and suggest strategies to minimise waste and maximise efficiency.

Analysis by Accenture, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, shows that digital technologies, if scaled across industries, could deliver up to 20% of the 2050 carbon emissions reductions needed to hit the International Energy Agency net zero trajectories in the energy, materials and mobility industries.

By adopting digital technologies these industries can already reduce emissions by 4-10%.

Although sustainable innovation is key to enabling carbon emissions transparency, work remains to support businesses on the adoption journey. This is where initiatives like the AI for decarbonisation virtual centre for excellence (ADViCE) are key, exploring innovation opportunities for AI to address barriers for adoption within four major sectors with a large carbon footprint.

Cutting carbon emissions remains a priority for CIOs and IT leaders. As businesses strive for net zero emissions by 2050, sustainable innovation will continue to empower businesses and enhance sustainability across supply chains. Examples of sustainable innovation, including the Eco-Meter, provide real-time insights to help businesses reduce emissions and improve sustainability practices.

Any organisation interested in working with Digital Catapult on their sustainability journey, can find out more information here.

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