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As far back as the early 1970s, the concept of global equilibrium was already a hotly debated topic. The question: How do people meet their basic material needs without overburdening the earth’s natural systems?
The simple answer to this question: environmental sustainability. However, putting this into action has proven to be a greater challenge than anyone anticipated, particularly for modern businesses.
Today, almost all industries face daily sustainability challenges brought on by the scarcity of natural resources, climate change, and ever-changing customer demands.
To address these challenges, businesses are examining their supply chain model and other aspects of business operations and taking steps to make them more sustainable. For many, this means balancing environmental stewardship with economic growth through ethical workplace practices, resource efficiency, waste management, and other initiatives.
Even though some businesses have been pursuing environmental sustainability goals for years, technology is now playing a significant role in assisting them in achieving these goals.
Here is how they are doing it:
1. Robotics, Automation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
Robotics and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are not new trends. However, while robotics for automation has been around for longer, the integration of IIoT has drastically changed its use in the industrial sector.
IIoT solutions assist businesses in collecting, analyzing, and sharing real-time data. And, with the assistance of automation, businesses can use this data to optimize machine performance, increasing operational efficiency, productivity, and product quality. IIoT and automation have a far greater reach than we think, we generally think of them in a business sense and lose the real-world capabilities of these trends. In your everyday life, IIoT and automation systems like digital water meters are working on city-wide water management with real-time data analysis, to reduce water wastage and better understand the demand for infostructure management.
Businesses can also become more sustainable because robotics devices such as delivery robots, drones, inventory management robots, and industrial tank cleaning robots are more efficient and do not require as much energy to operate as humans do.
In fact, according to a 2018 survey, 70% of businesses using IIoT saw an improvement in their environmental performance.
2. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)
The widespread use of 3D printing in manufacturing has grown in recent years because 3D printers employ a variety of materials, including polymers, plastics, steel, ceramic, titanium, and more.
This adaptability means 3D-printed models can be used for anything — from airplane components to artistic sculptures. Some 3D printers can even print chemicals and proteins, allowing them to make food and medicine.
The numerous possibilities offered by 3D printing are constantly being investigated, particularly in terms of environmental sustainability. At the moment, it is possible to use recyclable materials from the business supply chain, such as plastic, as base materials to manufacture equipment that is also used in the supply chain.
3D printing has been tested on a radial flow centrifugal pump design.
Centrifugal pumps are versatile and adaptable pumps used in a variety of industries, including agriculture, municipal water plants, wastewater treatment plants, power generation plants, mining, pharmaceutical, and petroleum.
One of the many centrifugal pump applications is the displacement of industrial fluids because it has few moving parts, a simple design, and requires little maintenance.
The Fusion Deposit Model (a 3D printing technique) was successfully used to create a lightweight centrifugal pump prototype out of recycled plastic. However, improvements will be required to enhance the quality of finished pumps so they are comparable to those made with cast iron and other such materials.
The effects of this achievement will have a positive impact on the environmental sustainability of the industrial sector and its vendors. According to one study, 3D printing could reduce industrial manufacturing CO2 emissions by up to 5% by 2025.
3. Machine Learning (Artificial Intelligence)
Artificial intelligence has many applications in environmental sustainability, including pollution control, natural resource conservation, energy management, waste management, clean energy, and others.
Using numerical analytics and scenario analysis, AI is bringing new automation power to business, such as demand forecasting, facilitating planning activities, predictive maintenance, collaborative shipping, and synchromodality.
In simpler terms, artificial Intelligence is being built into business systems to process data. This enables the system to interpret, observe, assess, and make decisions in a manner similar to the way humans process tasks. As a result, AI capabilities can significantly reduce error rates, lower operational costs, and optimize supply chain flow.
Google’s DeepMind AI, which has helped them reduce their data center energy usage by 40%, making them more energy-efficient and reducing overall GHG emissions, is a clear example of the environmental sustainability applications of AI and its capacity for results. This is a significant accomplishment, given that data centers alone consume 3% of global energy each year.
Another area where businesses have seen success in using AI for environmental sustainability is in the development of greener transportation products.
Google Maps, for example, uses machine learning algorithms to improve safety by optimizing navigation and providing real-time information about traffic congestion and flows – assisting commuters in effectively navigating their commute time and thus helping to reduce CO2 emissions.
Looking To the Future: Cost-Benefits of Environmental Sustainability for Businesses
One of the most significant advantages of environmental sustainability in business is that it has a positive economic impact on a company.
Many sustainability efforts focus on high-cost areas, such as elaborate product packaging, electricity usage, and so on. Making changes to address excess in these areas will inevitably result in cost savings. As a result, sustainable businesses are more profitable and efficient than non-sustainable businesses.
According to a recent CPD report, companies that actively integrate sustainability principles into their operations can benefit from cost savings as well as reduced risk and vulnerability. Over €28 billion was saved by such businesses in 2020.
For example, a comprehensive retrofit at one of Walmart’s stores resulted in a 37% reduction in energy costs and a two-year payback period.
Starbucks hopes to save $50 million in utility costs over the next ten years as part of its sustainability plan.
Furthermore, statistics show that sustainability can help businesses improve their reputation, giving them a competitive advantage during this unprecedented period – 85% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company with a reputation for sustainability than from a neutral company if their prices are equal.
Therefore, it makes sense for businesses to explore how they can not only profit from and save money through the adoption of technology but, more importantly, benefit the environment.
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