Sustainability is becoming a hot topic issue for corporations across the globe for a few notable reasons. With consumers increasingly leaning towards green options, some of the world’s biggest brands and corporations have been investing millions towards improving their ESG (environmental, social, and governmental) performance. Even business technologies are evolving to reflect this shift in attitude towards the value of sustainability within the context of commercial production.
But how exactly are corporations managing their ESG performance with the use of digital technology and new methodologies? Are these advancements themselves as green as they can be? And is there a way to actually quantify a company’s overall environmental or ecological impacts?
We’ll be exploring the answers to these questions today so read on to learn a little bit more about what’s to come with all things corporate social responsibility and environmental impact management.
Environmental monitoring technologies
Although it may feel contrary to say, the industrial IoT is actually the single most important tool that many corporations have when it comes to monitoring their overall environmental impacts. This is primarily because IIoT technologies are dynamic and adaptable, meaning that you can use an IIoT solution for many different purposes. Simply put, IIoT technologies can be used to monitor the output and efficiency of your production line as well as the carbon emissions generated by your supply chain and distribution channels.
With a centralised IIoT business management system, you can collate performance data from all the individual facets of your business to develop a big picture understanding of your company’s environmental impact as a whole. This allows businesses to make minute adjustments to every component of their business that utilizes environmental and performance monitoring technologies.
A good example here is altering the processes used to prepare fabrication materials to reduce the energy consumption of these processes or to even increase the number of units that can be produced with a single load of raw materials. In this regard, using environmental data to streamline production processes won’t just help save the planet, but it can positively impact a business’ bottom line as well.
Supply chain optimization
Speaking of improving your company’s bottom line, it’s safe to assume that the lion’s share of your operational costs are going towards supply and distribution in this day and age. Maintaining a global supply chain has become increasingly complex in this post-COVID economy, as business owners must still contend with higher trade tariffs and shipping costs. And with global trade routes being inundated with shipments after years of inactivity, there are still substantial delays that need to be accounted for.
Thankfully, the US and other nations are looking into greenifying supply chains through policymaking and the development of trade partnerships with neighboring countries. But there are naturally more ways to optimize your supply chain alongside ‘shopping local’.
Once again, environmental data derived from IIoT solutions can help business owners optimise their supply chain to ensure that shipping and transportation activities are producing a minimal amount of carbon emissions. These smart technological solutions allow companies to monitor transportation routes in accordance with other metrics like fuel consumption and truck loading weights. From here, businesses can use these data insights to make micro adjustments to their supply chain which, when sustained in the long term, can result in substantial savings on fuel costs and a healthy overall reduction of that company’s carbon footprint.
So we clearly have more environmental performance metrics available to us than ever before. What do we do with all of this information? After all, optimisation can only take us so far, especially in a commercial context where businesses seek sustainable switches that add to their financial reserves rather than draining them. If you have amended your business’s operational processes to a point where no further emissions can be eradicated, then now’s the time to consider carbon offsetting.
Carbon offsetting is basically the process of compensating for the carbon emissions produced by a business by removing or reducing emissions from elsewhere. In the global business landscape, carbon offsetting occurs by providing carbon credits to companies with zero and negative emissions. These bodies can then sell their carbon credits to companies that are producing emissions in order for them to attain carbon neutrality.
In order for carbon offsetting to be an effective method, however, there needs to be companies operating that are actually producing zero or negative carbon emissions. The fiscal incentive of being able to sell off carbon credits to other companies may also help provide green startups with the income stream that they need to continue building up their zero waste enterprises.
Tesla is a great example of carbon offsetting done well, as the company relied on cashing in carbon credits during its earlier years in order to fund the development of their electronic vehicles. After over a decade of being funded by their carbon credits, the car manufacturers were finally able to yield a profit from their car sales in 2020.
This demonstration of the efficacy of carbon offsetting means that the practice is likely here to stay. And although the practice of carbon offsetting does have its fair share of critics who argue that the method may give companies ‘license to pollute’, it does provide an opportunity for collective progress that can benefit business owners who have plenty of green changes that still need to be made.
Sustainable AI & automation
Yes, greenifying a business is easier said than done, even with IIoT technologies and carbon credits at your disposal. But business owners can vote with their dollars just like any other consumer, so it’s imperative that you think critically about the technological investments that your company makes in this age of sustainability.
Of all the sustainability trends that we’ve seen emerge over the past few years in particular, there’s one that’s undeniably ruled the bulk of our tech dialogue over 2023: AI and automation. Believe it or not, but there are some AI tools that are more sustainable or eco-friendly than others. This is because AI can be sustainable at an algorithmic level or even server-side, or through the energy that’s used to power AI servers.
Let’s start with algorithmically responsible AI first. Whilst AI can be a fantastic tool for automating business processes, it’s important for business owners to engage with exactly how artificial intelligence technologies are mapping out these automated activities. Algorithms can cause harm with minimal human awareness, so if your automation tools aren’t configured to select the ‘greenest’ optimisation options, then you may find that your business’ automated operations can actually end up being an accidental ecological disaster.
Thankfully, this situation can be remedied by simply investing in AI that’s been developed with sustainability and environmental ethics in mind. Business owners may find that these sustainable AIs are also likely to use renewable energy sources to power their operational servers, so be sure to have a look out for automation tools that advertise they’re powered by renewables. In fact, you can go so far as to continue this to be a ‘green flag’, literally and figuratively.
Developing circular economies
Finally, resource consumption is guaranteed to be a continuing hot topic issue for a lot of industries across the globe, namely because the growth of landfill waste is always going to be a concern. This is precisely why one of the most effective ways of fulfilling your corporate responsibility to protect the environment is simply by monitoring your company’s waste production statistics and taking measures to keep that output as low as possible.
But waste management can be so much more than just using the right bins. In fact, when prioritized en masse, waste management can actually help create brand new ways of managing modern businesses. For example, some industries have become dedicated to creating a looped production cycle, whereby depleted products or materials can be returned to the beginning of their factory line once again. This phenomenon is fittingly called a ‘circular economy’.
Developing a circular economy basically helps industries integrate their responsibility to manage and reduce their own waste directly into the lifespan of their fabricated products. For example, printer cartridges can be produced from the recycled components of other printer cartridges, saving millions of used plastic cartridges from ending up in landfills all over the world.
And setting up circular economies is only getting easier, thanks to the ongoing development of recycling plants and technologies. With that, business owners are encouraged to strategize on how they can contribute to their industry’s own circular economy.
With these new technologies and methodologies at our disposal, it’s safe to say that the future of business is looking increasingly green and conscientious. It’s up to business owners to determine which of these advancements they’d like to incorporate into their environmental management strategies.
And when they do hone these strategies and put them into practice, they may very well find themselves enjoying a surge of new business opportunities as consumers continue to vote green with their dollars.