The advent of new digital technologies has made life much easier. However, this convenience drastically impacts the environment, with tonnes of carbon emissions being the consequence each year.
This is where digital sustainability comes in. It is essential for the human race to take action immediately to ensure that the planet remains habitable.
Hence, this article will take you through three major subjects:
- the current environmental situation,
- digital sustainability now,
- and how we can implement it in the future through the use of digital technologies, big data, and artificial intelligence that we now have available to us.
Let’s begin by looking at the top digital sustainability statistics.
In order to appreciate what is being done in the direction of green technology adoption, we must first get a comprehensive backdrop of what is truly at stake.
To do just that, let’s first have a look at the current global emissions status.
1. Half of the global fossil fuel emissions from 1751 have been emitted since 1991. (Climate Accountability Institute)
2. The twenty largest fossil fuel companies produced carbon fuels amounting to 35% of all emissions. (Climate Accountability Institute)
3. Global emissions are rising and worsening the climate crisis. Emission levels must immediately peak so as to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and drive down to zero by 2050. (Climate Accountability Institute)
4. A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt. of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21 percent in just five years. (United Nations University)
5. Digital pollution is a big deal, as the information communication technology combined will emit more carbon by 2025 than any other country except China, India, and the United States. (ScienceDirect.
6. Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 0.9% or 321 metric Megaton (Mt. in 2022, reaching a new high of over 36.8 metric Gigaton (Gt.) (IEA 2022)
7. In 2022, emissions from oil grew even more than emissions from coal, rising by 2.5% or 268 Mt to 11.2 Gt. (IEA 2022)
8. The biggest sectoral increase in emissions in 2022 came from electricity and heat generation. In particular, global emissions from coal-fired electricity and heat generation grew by 224 Mt or 2.1%, led by emerging economies in Asia. (IEA 2022)
9. The Emissions Gap Report 2022 finds that the world must cut emissions by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid global catastrophe. (Emissions Gap Report 2022)
10. Global GHG emissions in 2030 based on current policies are estimated at 58 GtCO2e. (Emissions Gap Report 2022)
11. The emissions gap in 2030 is 15 GtCO2e annually for a 2°C pathway and 23 GtCO2e for a 1.5°C pathway. (Emissions Gap Report 2022)
12. Total GHG emissions of major emitters in 2020: (Emissions Gap Report 2022)
It seems that carbon in the air is an increasingly larger problem, but let’s now look at a few things that are being done to curb this rise with the help of renewable energy sources, real-time data collection and analysis, and various digital initiatives, in an attempt at environmental sustainability.
To start with, let’s first look at how the world is behaving in terms of adopting green technology.
1. Back in 2012, just 120,000 EVs were sold worldwide. In 2021 more than that number were sold each week, which is a big step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (IEA 2022)
2. Investment in battery energy storage is hitting new highs and is expected to more than double to reach almost USD 20 billion in 2022. (IEA 2022)
3. Plans for around 130 commercial-scale CO2 capture projects in 20 countries were announced in 2021. (IEA 2022)
4. A dollar invested in wind and solar photovoltaic (PV. installations now generate four times as much electricity as a dollar invested ten years ago. (IEA 2021)
5. Critical minerals threaten to reverse the trend of declining costs for clean energy technologies. (IEA 2022)
Having looked at some trends, let’s look at some macro-level investment changes the world over in regard to green technology.
This will help give the reader a broad perspective on what is being done, and the direction towards which the world is headed.
1. After remaining flat for several years, global clean energy spending is finally ramping up and is expected to exceed USD 1.4 trillion in 2022. (IEA 2022)
2. The highest clean energy investment levels in 2021 were in China (USD 380 billion), followed by the European Union (USD 260 billion. and the United States (USD 215 billion). (IEA 2022.
3. Major regional variations in clean energy investment trends. (IEA 2022)
4. World energy investment is set to rise over 8% in 2022 to reach a total of USD 2.4 trillion. (IEA 2022)
5. Spending on energy efficiency improvements is set to increase in 2021 by nearly 10%. (IEA 2021)
6. Governments worldwide earmarked USD 710 billion for long-term clean energy and sustainable recovery measures in an effort to reduce our global carbon emissions. (IEA 2022)
7. Renewables, grids, and storage now account for more than 80% of total power sector investment. (IEA 2022)
8. At USD 40 billion, the portfolio of hydrogen energy-based firms is worth around 20 times more than five years ago in nominal terms and four times more than at the end of 2019. (IEA 2022)
9. Renewable investment and sustainability goals have thrived in economies with well-established supply chains and governments that facilitate ease of business. (IEA 2021)
While we looked at some global trends, Asia is a large manufacturing hub, and data on how Asia is reacting to green technology is essential to know in order to determine the direction the world as a whole will take in terms of emissions.
To do that, let’s look at some Asia-specific stats.
1. China’s coal-fired financial investment decisions in 2020 were approximately a quarter of what they were in 2010, while India’s were less than 5% of their levels in 2010. Both economies are spending larger proportions on sustainable energy sources. (IEA 2021)
2. Coal investment rebounded slightly in 2021, led mainly by developments in China. (IEA 2022)
3. Many Asian economies are net exporters in their CO2 emission balances with developed economies in Europe and North America. (Asian Development Bank)
4. Based on a recent study, these were the percentage of people who thought we still had time to save the planet: (Mintel)
5. Innovative energy-efficient technologies can open an investment opportunity of $1.6 trillion by 2040. This also has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly and create nearly 3.7 million jobs. (The World Bank)
6. Green buildings represent an investment potential totaling more than $1.5 trillion across South Asia between 2018 and 2030. (International Finance Corporation)
7. Green transport infrastructure and electric vehicles create an opportunity of over $950 billion by 2030. (International Finance Corporation)
8. Asia has attracted the largest share of global FDI in carbon-intensive industries, but its share in global non-carbon-intensive FDI is increasing. (Asian Development Bank)
In 2019, B Corp, a non-profit, dedicated to making business a force for the greater good, achieved massive individual success in being digitally sustainable:
- 6.4 million tonnes of CO2 were offset
- 108 thousand metric tonnes of garbage, including e-waste, were properly disposed of (B Lab)
As the world is increasingly heating up and various areas are devastated by climate change, digital sustainability is one of the few glimmers of hope. It is a way to use the best of what humanity has produced to battle the damaging effects of its own existence.
From what we saw above, there are three main ways of going about it. The first would be for businesses to engage in the best and most green practices they can, using their resources most efficiently, as well as checking their environmental impact.
The second would be to both encourage greener practices, as well as bring about regulation to enforce it, so we can get the most out of our current technology to help the planet. Finally, we ourselves have to form our sustainable development goals with the help of digital transformation and try to be less wasteful.
With our current carbon footprint, it is a steep road ahead, and there is no denying that. But it is also one of the only roads ahead, and we as a species must walk up that road, both for our sake and that of the planet, and bring about a circular economy where economic growth fuels green technology, which in turn fuels economic growth.