10+ Sustainable Development Goals
Sustainable technologies are the ultimate goal and focus on achieving low or no ecological impact (100% recyclable and non-toxic) and using resources efficiently. This blog explains 10+ Sustainable Development Goals with examples and case studies.
Source them through optimized supply chains
Move products and services from point A to point B
Move from waste treatment to waste prevention
Sustainable Development Goal 1:
Because of changing oil prices, new regulations, and pressure from consumers and retailers, industrial chemistry is working to clean up its act.
Green, or sustainable, chemistry is about designing, developing, and implementing chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and generation of substances that are hazardous to people and the environment.
It involves rethinking the chemicals themselves, and how they are being used, as well as searching for greener, more environmentally and socially acceptable alternatives.
Considering that chemistry – chemicals and chemical processes – delivers over 95% of all the products used in society, green chemistry is a key area in sustainability. Green chemistry involves:
Designing safer chemicals, with little or no human or environmental toxicity.
Designing less hazardous chemical syntheses.
Using renewable materials such as wastes or by-products from other processes.
Using safer solvents or avoiding their use altogether.
Increasing energy efficiency by running reactions at room temperature and pressure.
Designing chemicals that degrade after use rather than accumulating in the environment.
Providing real-time information during syntheses to minimize or eliminate byproducts.
Minimizing the potential for accidents
Internationally, a number of regulations and laws govern use or prohibition of chemicals ’ transportation and disposal, including the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
A large number of companies – such as BASF, Microsoft, and Johnson & Johnson – are phasing out chemicals considered harmful.
The legislation is not the only driver. Many organizations are using green chemistry as a way to produce unique and innovative products in the market, often to fill a demand by the consumer for more natural products.
Reducing or eliminating the need for hazardous chemicals means a company does not need to invest in training and systems to manage and dispose of the waste.
Once the customer is finished with them, rather than being left with the responsibility to dispose of them, Dow recovers the chemical and, where possible, recycles it for future use.
There are also a growing number of initiatives from companies who are releasing more information on the ingredients used in their products, in particular, the chemicals. SC Johnson has put together a website which provides a closer look at the ingredients it uses in its products.
Sustainable Development Goal 2:
Doing more with less
Enter an appliance store in Europe or the USA, for example, and you will see energy labels showing the energy usage of the different products.
Consumers, whether to cut bills or be more responsible, are looking for products that use less energy and water. Businesses are also interested in cutting their energy and water use for the same reasons.
The growing international movement focused on sustainable consumption and production has roots in both the private and public sectors. The idea is that natural resources can be used more efficiently – it’s not just about consuming and producing less, but also consuming and producing differently.
Two concepts that put this idea into practice are gaining momentum:
Eco-efficiency, developed by the WBCSD, ‘is a management philosophy that encourages business to search for environmental improvements which yield parallel economic benefits.’
It is not simply about making incremental efficiency improvements; it is about stimulating creativity and innovation in search of new ways of doing things throughout the full value chain. The philosophy encompasses three broad objectives:
Reducing the consumption of resources – including energy, materials, water, and land – while also enhancing the recyclability and durability of products and closing material loops.
Reducing the impact on nature – including air emissions, water discharges, waste disposal, and dispersion of toxic substances – while focusing on the sustainable use of renewable resources.
Increasing product or service value – providing more benefits to customers through product functionality, flexibility, and modularity plus additional services, focusing on selling the functional need that customers want.
Cleaner production is a preventative approach to environmental management where the environmental impact is minimized.
UNEP, who introduced the concept in 1989, defines it as ‘the continuous application of an integrated preventive environmental strategy to processes, products, and services to increase overall efficiency, reduce risks to humans and the environment. Cleaner production can be applied to the processes used in any industry, to products themselves and to various services provided in society.’
Sustainable Development Goal 3:
Technological innovation is an important part of finding solutions to our economic, social, and environmental problems. These technologies are generally categorized into four areas:
Remediation technologies treat environmental problems after they have occurred and attempt to repair or remediate the damage. These include soil and water cleanup methods and are typically very expensive.
Abatement technologies capture or treat pollutants before they escape into the environment using physical, chemical, or biological mechanisms to reduce emissions, like clean coal or sewage treatment systems. Abatement technologies are usually capital intensive, require lots of energy and resources to operate, and generate their own waste.
Pollution prevention technologies include improved or alternative industrial and agricultural processes that avoid the production of pollutants (e.g., paper making that eliminates chlorine bleaching) as well as alternative products that result in less pollution through their use and disposal (e.g., lead-free petrol, biodegradable detergents, mercury-free batteries, and water-based paints).
Clean technology or ‘cleantech’ is considered by many to be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century. The venture capital industry invested US$8.4 billion in cleantech in 2008.
Clean technologies are technologies that reduce or eliminate their environmental impact through resource efficiency, improving performance, and minimizing waste.
Cleantech is seen as so key to the future of their business that GE has committed US$10 billion cumulative investment from 2010 to 2015 in cleantech. They have been looking in particular at renewable energy, efficiency, and smart grid technologies.
There are a growing number of innovations in sustainable technology in the fields of renewable energies such as solar, wind, and alternative fuels, but also in agriculture, infrastructure, recycling, efficiency, transportation, and storage. Initiatives are abundant, at all levels and in all industries in this area. For example:
Devices that collect energy to generate electricity are being fitted to bicycles in Times Square, revolving doors in the Netherlands, and even dance floors in nightclubs.
A scientist in Taiwan invented an organic chlorophyll battery which can supply electricity within 10 seconds of being made wet with water or any kind of beverage.
The ‘soil lamp’ is an LED light that takes advantage of the electricity generated by the chemical reaction between metallic strips of zinc and the minerals and organisms in the damp soil.
Smog-eating cement was invented in Italy and in the presence of light, breaks down air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and benzene through a natural process called photocatalysis. It is now being used in buildings across Europe, as well as North America.
Kites are being explored instead of windmills as power generators. Kites eliminate the need for expensive infrastructures such as towers and have the potential to supply energy at a fraction of the current cost of electricity in Europe today.
Innovation in existing technologies goes beyond alternative energies; it can also be applied to bring about social change. Social change innovations are occurring in the information and telecommunication areas in particular.
For example, Vodafone ’s mobile payment service allows customers without bank accounts to use mobile phones for financial transactions. Citi’s biometric ATM allows customers in developing countries to access services using fingerprints.
Sustainable Development Goal 4:
Improve supply chain management
Today, companies are realizing that they are accountable to their stakeholders and the public for activities throughout their whole supply chain, including the actions of their suppliers.
By working closely with suppliers, companies of any size can minimize the risk of unknowingly being exposed to negative impacts, and can also understand the environmental and social impacts their products and services have throughout their full life-cycle while exploring ways of creating a better product.
Suppliers usually know their products inside and out, putting them in a good position to help maximize efficiencies and minimize waste. At the end of the day, their business is your business as well.
PepsiCo works closely with their suppliers to ensure that they are working with like-minded companies, and to see what they can learn from suppliers who are further ahead in this journey than they are. As their sustainability strategies evolve, they expect their suppliers to evolve with them.
According to John C. Scott, PepsiCo Director of Responsible and Sustainable Sourcing, ‘Setting expectations for performance with suppliers is good for PepsiCo because it results in suppliers running their businesses more effectively and reducing costs, which ultimately translates into having a better economic relationship with the supplier.
While we recognize we still have a lot to learn in this area, we’re working with them while we continue to refine our approach.’
As you execute your supplier selection strategy and build supplier relationships, keep the following points in mind:
Create a policy for improving the economic, environmental, and social sustainability performance of suppliers.
To help suppliers meet these goals, Ford developed and provided ISO 14001 Awareness Training and created Environmental Recognition awards that recognize suppliers for outstanding environmental achievement and innovation.
Work with suppliers to help them craft their sustainability strategies. Consider hosting a forum where suppliers and buyers can discuss and question decisions and can move forward with real action items.
You are likely to find that many suppliers don’t know where to start and such a forum allows them to learn from the buyer and other suppliers who have already started the journey.
Because of a desire to certify its suppliers that are using forestry products, PepsiCo brought nearly 200 of its largest suppliers together with leading not for profits, NGOs, and government organizations to explain PepsiCo ’s approach and commitment to work with credible organizations that promote responsible business practices, and how those programs tie into expectations for PepsiCo’s suppliers.
Through their supplier outreach programs, PepsiCo also empowers employees to work with suppliers to set goals and monitor improvement in resource conservation programs such as Energy Star and carbon disclosure.
Conduct a baseline assessment of suppliers ’ current sustainability performance. HP’s Supplier Environmental Performance Review Questionnaire aims to provide a tool to gather consistent information on supplier environmental practices and to optimize the transfer of environmental performance information between purchasers and suppliers.
Don’ t ignore the suppliers of suppliers. Many suppliers are themselves managing other suppliers, an area where problems can easily arise if not managed carefully. Companies need to work to make sure their values spread throughout the supply chain.
Novo Nordisk’s sustainable supply chain management program, launched in 2002, works with their main suppliers as well as their second-tier suppliers (those that supply to main suppliers) to support human rights and labor standards, as well as to ensure that sound environmental practices are in place.
Send consistent messages.
Many suppliers work with different companies at the same time. Thus, one of the major challenges for suppliers is keeping track of each company’s individual sustainability programs and targets that it must meet.
In order to ensure that suppliers are receiving consistent messages in terms of minimum standards from the different companies they work with, several international initiatives have also been put into place to help.
AIM-PROGRESS is a group of large international companies working together to develop common guidelines on responsible sourcing. Sedex is a service that connects businesses and their global suppliers to share ethical data.
Support local suppliers. Wherever possible focus on working with local suppliers and even on developing and empowering the local business network.
Take a step by step approach. In recognition that their suppliers are at different levels when it comes to sustainability, IKEA created a staircase model applicable to suppliers delivering or producing articles that contain solid wood, veneer, plywood, or layer-glued wood.
Suppliers range from level 1 where the origin of the wood must be known and must not originate from intact natural forests, all the way to level 4 where forests are certified through the Forest Stewardship Council.
IKEA aims to have 100% of its suppliers at level 4. This has brought multiple benefits. For example, the number of wood supply chain audits conducted in 2007 decreased from 90 to 50 due in part to the increased documentation requirements for full FSC chain of custody certification.
Fair Factories Clearinghouse provides information on labor practices in factories around the world.
Sustainable Development Goal 5:
Transportation systems move goods and people around the globe. However, our increasing reliance upon traditional transportation systems brings its own set of problems to bear: air and noise pollution, traffic congestion and road accidents, over-reliance on non-renewable resources, as well as land use to name a few.
Companies today are looking not just at how their products are created and packaged, but also on the impact that transportation has on the lifecycle of a product. Across the sector many initiatives are taking place to positively impact fuel efficiency, and environmental and personal safety:
Cars and trucks. Companies are choosing to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, including hybrids and electric cars, and are filling up with alternative fuels where they are available (www.Canadian Renewable Fuels Association) or even using vegetable oil from restaurants.
Driver training programs result in better driving practices that not only reduce fuel consumption but also improve road safety (Greener Driving-UNEP).
In order to reduce the incidence of chemical transport highway accidents, Dow Chemicals and DuPont jointly introduced a Behavior-Based Safety Program to influence the behavior of drivers through observation, coaching, and communication.
WalMart, which owns the second largest private truck fleet in the USA, has committed to doubling its fleet’s fuel efficiency by 2015.
SC Johnson saved US$1.6 million annually through its Truckload Utilization Project, which combines multiple customer orders and different products to send out the most fully loaded and best-configured trucks in order to maximize each truck’s carrying capacity and shipping routes. Shipping companies such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL have similar policies.
Sustainable Development Goal 6:
Transportation by sea underpins global trade, with 90% of the world’s international trade traveling by sea. While not without its own problems, shipping by sea generally has a lower environmental impact than air or road transport.
One example of vessel operators and port authorities working together to reduce pollution in the Los Angeles port in the USA, which now provides clean electrical hook-ups shore side to avoid cruise and container ships from having to operate generators and engines while docked.
Shipping company Bremen introduced the world’s first cargo vessel with the innovative SkySails towing kite system.
This wind propulsion system harnesses wind energy to assist in propelling the ship, and depending on wind conditions can lower fuel costs by between 10% and 35%. A small freighter could save over US$250 000 in fuel costs per year using this system.
The Global Industry Alliance is encouraging the shipping industry to share approaches on limiting the number of invasive species transferred in ballast water, the leading cause of introducing marine alien species (Home - GloBallast).
The Sustainable Shipping Initiative brings together some of the biggest names in the maritime sector to look at how they can contribute to – and thrive in – a sustainable future (The Sustainable Shipping Initiative).
Air transport. The volume of passenger and freight transport by air is expected to continue to grow, as are demanded by stakeholders to make air travel more sustainable.
At the current rate of growth in air travel and transportation, the UK’s Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution calculates that, by 2050, emissions of greenhouse gases from aviation will account for more than half of the UK’s impact on global warming.
To combat this, the International Air Transportation Association – as well as the Clean Sky initiative in Europe – are working to cut the industry's emissions. One way to achieve this is through advances in aircraft technology that improve fuel efficiency, while simultaneously reducing both operating cost and pollution.
The use of composite materials to reduce weight was introduced in the Airbus A380. The industry is also researching ideas like aircraft with blended wing bodies that would make less noise and use up to 25% less fuel than conventionally shaped aircraft.
Operations managers reviewing their transportation strategy should keep in mind the importance of sourcing raw materials locally where possible, as this can not only reduce transportation costs but also help support the local industries that supply them.
Scania, a leading manufacturer of heavy trucks and buses as well as industrial and marine engines based in Sweden, has the following recipe for sustainable transportation:
Transitioning now to renewable fuels.
Increased investments in developing hybrid technology.
Driver training can improve fuel efficiency by 10–15% and results in lower damage and maintenance costs.
Correct tire pressure, rolling resistance accounts for about 30% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption.
Improved efficiency of the transport system by eliminating empty or near-empty runs.
Greater cargo capacity through longer vehicles and maximized cargo space.
Reduced air resistance by correctly fitting objects mounted on the truck.
Better fuel economy with the latest technology.
Sustainable Development Goal 7:
Believe it or not, waste has become exciting. We may have once thought of waste as dirty, uninteresting, expensive, and useless, but today, numerous pressures are combining to make waste management a focal point in sustainability.
Faced with increasing regulations, public pressure, raw material, and landfill shortages, and the need for increased resource efficiency, companies are moving away from the waste treatment approach and toward waste prevention and reuse.
Apart from obvious environmental and societal benefits, cost remains the most serious driver for improving waste management.
Treatment, handling, transportation, and disposal of waste all add significant costs to a business, especially when the waste is hazardous. Hidden costs, such as the loss of raw materials, cost of treatment, time and energy, are often ignored and can increase the true price tag of waste as much as five to twenty times.
From a business point of view, pollution and waste represent the incomplete, ineffective, or inefficient use of raw materials. Since waste does not enhance customer or stakeholder value, it has no place in business.
According to the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, ‘Zero Waste means a 100% resource efficient economy where, as in nature, material flows are cyclical and everything is re-used or recycled harmlessly back into society or nature.
“Waste” as we think of it today will cease to exist because everything will be viewed as a resource.’ Today, many global companies such as DuPont and Xerox are aiming for zero waste. Carpet company Interfaceflor has a mission to achieve zero waste.
They define waste as any cost that doesn’t produce value to their customers, including scraps or materials sent to landfills as well as resources, time, and energy wasted when they don ’t do things right the first time. This also includes zero emissions and zero oil, a tough challenge since carpets are currently made with oil.
In rethinking waste management, companies should first and foremost identify what the waste streams are, and how much waste is being generated throughout the lifecycle and supply chain from raw materials to packaging. Then a company should look at:
1. Preventing waste altogether. Considering product design to avoid producing waste in the first place.
2. Reducing waste. Minimizing the amount of waste produced through design, procurement, and less packaging. Recycling and reusing. Where waste cannot be prevented, as many of the materials as possible should be recovered through recycling or reuse.
4. Improving disposal and monitoring. Where there is no other choice, waste should be disposed of safely and appropriately. Many waste management strategies are rapidly gaining popularity that addresses one or more levels of the waste hierarchy:
Sustainable Development Goal 8:
Extended producer responsibility.
The EU has several directives that oblige member states and EU producers to set up and participate in product take-back schemes for electronic goods and automobiles.
These schemes, also called EPRs, have been established to push for changes at the source that reduce the environmental impacts of products throughout the lifecycle.
EPRs place the physical and financial responsibility on producers to recover and then dispose of, recycle, or reuse their products. These schemes can also be extended to include the responsibility to provide information on the environmental and social properties of the products manufactured.
Overall, the EPR strategy not only encourages companies to follow principles such as eco-design and minimization of hazardous materials but also shifts the cost of waste collection away from municipalities. It also forces producers to better internalize the full costs of waste.
Turning a product into a service. Schindler, an elevator company, determined that rather than selling its high-quality elevators as a product, it would rent out a ‘vertical transportation system’ to its customers. The decision benefits everyone. The company keeps the asset on its blogs and remains responsible for all service and repairs.
Schindler can also invest in providing the most up-to-date quality product they can and provide more tailored solutions to the needs of their customers, which helps them attain their profit objectives. Xerox ’s leasing program recovers and reuses materials and components from copiers, including toner.
Both Schindler and Xerox represent a new trend – companies that are exploring what is known as Product Service Systems (PSS), moving from selling a product to renting the service that the product provides.
The idea of PSS is nothing new; launderettes, movie theaters, and libraries are all based on the same principle. What is new is the way that increasing numbers and types of businesses are exploring these opportunities by re-examining the original assumptions behind an existing product, material, or service decision.
Instead of traditional product decisions based on resources available, and ability to sell, these companies are focusing on the original need the product fulfills and providing that service instead.
Byproduct synergies (also known as industrial ecology or industrial symbiosis) involve a range of organizations – such as companies, offices, and government – acting together as a single ecosystem, taking one company’s byproducts and waste and selling or sharing them as primary inputs to another company.
The idea behind byproduct synergies is to design and operate industrial systems as living systems.
Within a company. BASF’s Verbund is an integrated system within its manufacturing plants that allows byproducts and waste from one plant to serve as the raw materials in another plant. Calculations show that this saves the company about €500 million each year at the company’s Ludwigshafen site alone.
Between two companies. The Carlton United Brewery in Australia sells the extra yeast produced in its brewery to Kraft, which uses it to make Vegemite, a popular yeast-based spread.
On a small scale. Green Zone in Sweden combines a Ford car service center, a Statoil fuel station, and a McDonald’s, all of which are heated using a central heat pump and ground source technology.
Surplus heat generated by the McDonald’s grills as well as the heated coolant water from Statoil’s refrigeration system is transported to the central heat pump, thus allowing the buildings to benefit from the energy surplus.
On a large scale. In the Danish industrial town of Kalundborg, over 20 partners share waste and other materials including Asnacs (the largest coal-fired plant in Denmark), Statoil (an oil refinery), Novo Nordisk (a large biotechnology company), a plasterboard company, and the town of Kalundborg.
There are also a growing number of initiatives internationally that enable one business to sell their waste, regardless of what that might be, to another business.
Recycle Match, for example, allows sellers to post waste or recyclables, buyers can bid on the materials, and the materials go to the best bid. Some companies have similar systems set up internally as well.
Ensuring quality. A number of corporations are looking at preventing waste from occurring in the first place, in part by ensuring quality and minimizing waste. Many quality-focused approaches originate from Japanese business mentality.
It can be implemented in corporations by improving every aspect of a business process in a step-by-step approach, while gradually developing employee skills through training and increased involvement.
This approach aggressively seeks to eliminate the possibility of errors and waste and to increase resource efficiency in the entire product lifecycle.
Lean manufacturing, based on the methods pioneered in the Toyota production system, focuses on eliminating waste, enhancing quality, and delivering value to customers while achieving environmental performance goals at the lowest cost.
Lean manufacturing derives specific strategies and actions from the idea that environmental waste does not add value to the customer, is a sign of inefficient production, and that it affects production flow, time, quality, and cost.
Lean typically targets seven kinds of waste: overproduction, inventory, transportation, motion, defects, over-processing, and waiting.
Creating new products from old ones. Some companies are exploring how they can create new products using waste from old products.
TerraCycle collects non-recyclable packaging from a range of food and drink items and turns it into backpacks and other items sold in major department stores. Method cleaning company makes new plastic bottles using waste plastic recovered from the ocean.
Starbucks is doing research to see how they can transform food waste – in particular, the 5000 tons of used coffee grounds produced each year – into a key ingredient used in making plastic, laundry detergent, and other everyday products.
Worn Again works with large companies to turn their existing textile waste – through upcycling, downcycling, and reuse – into new products.
For example, they created a range of bags and accessories for Virgin Atlantic using old airline seat covers.
Tapping into garbage dumps. There are several threads of thought that now involve how garbage that has already been disposed of in landfills can be mined for resources.
Methane gas produced by decomposing garbage in dumps in New Jersey is captured and used as fuel to generate electricity. There are 21 landfills being used like this in the state, and 445 across the USA.
Dumps are also being mined for materials. For example, in the USA about 680 000 tonnes of aluminum cans are thrown out every year, totaling about US$1.83 billion worth of metal per year.
The world throws away 18 million tonnes of electronic waste each year, and one tonne of scrap from discarded computers can contain more gold than can be produced from 16 tonnes of ore.
So, why aren’t more companies tapping into this? As mining garbage is costly and often hazardous, many are finding that the best use of their resources is to stop products from reaching the landfill, to begin with, Challenges?
Gathering information. The transparency of supplier information is not always available and accurate, especially when you are looking beyond just a company’s suppliers to also look at the suppliers of those suppliers.
Misalignment between companies and their suppliers. Often there is a lack of effective communication between companies and their suppliers. Suppliers do not have financial incentives, such as increased orders or preferential contracts, and are not given any support for putting in place sustainability systems.
Also, each company has different requirements for its suppliers, making it complicated and expensive for suppliers to engage.
A large number of standards. The increasing number of regulatory and industry codes with different requirements is generating confusion, and often results in multiple audits all with different recommendations.
These efforts take time. Sometimes it is unrealistic to look at the whole supply chain. Changes are often easier to make incrementally, or one step at a time. Companies should adopt a process of continuous improvement.
Ideas. The biggest challenge often lies in just learning how to tap into your creativity and to imagine the possibilities.
Sustainable Development Goal 9:
Inspiration from nature
Tapping into nature for inspiration is nothing new. What is gaining momentum is the use of nature as inspiration for new and better technologies, an idea made popular through the concept of biomimicry. Biomimicry ‘studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems.’
Nature is the source of ‘technologies’ that have been used by the natural world successfully and sustainably for the past 3.8 billion years.
Increasingly, biologists, engineers, architects, and business leaders are coming together to learn how to tap into and use nature as inspiration for the development of new products or to completely redesign existing ones.
So how does it work? The Shinkansen bullet train in Japan, which travels at 200 miles per hour, used to make lots of noise as it emerged from tunnels.
The chief engineer, an avid bird-watcher, tried modeling the front of the train after the Kingfisher bird’s long pointed beak, which enables the bird to dive from air into water with a very little splash.
The result was a train that was not only quieter but used 15% less energy, even when the train traveled 10% faster. One does not need to be a biologist to explore these opportunities as they surround all of us.
Sustainable Development Goal 10:
Improve Information technology/information systems
Information technology and systems play a key role in allowing an organization and society to move forward with sustainability goals by facilitating the collection and analysis of information which can allow a business and its employees to make better, more sustainable decisions both at work and in their everyday life.
Information technology (IT), which is often also called information and communication technology (ICT), describes the technology and equipment used to display, process, transmit, or store information.
The IT industry is currently responsible for 3% of the global carbon footprint and IT applications have a very large potential to enhance performance across the economy and society (the remaining 97%).
According to the Global E-Sustainability Initiative (GESI), IT-enabled solutions offer the potential to reduce GHG emissions by 16.5% and yield US$1.9 trillion in savings.
Telstra in Australia, for example, estimated that the use of telecommunications could reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2015 using wireless and GPS to schedule personnel between jobs at remote sites to reduce the distance traveled;
Reducing energy use. Green IT is very much about making electronic equipment more efficient and sustainable, both in the production of the equipment, its use, and eventual disposal/ recycling/reuse.
Choosing electronic products. Companies are increasingly buying electronic equipment that is more sustainable. Several tools, such as the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) and eco-labels such as Energy Star and Blue Angel, help make that choice easier.
Reducing toxicity. Some IT equipment contains hazardous substances such as flame retardant, mercury, and cadmium. In the EU, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances initiative (RoHS) restricts the use of certain hazardous materials in electronic products. IT equipment also often includes the use of non-renewable resources such as lead, tin, or copper.
Increasing product longevity. End of life accounts for a large part of the IT industry’s ecological footprint. Creating equipment that is upgradeable, modular, and lasts longer is key.
Greening data centers. A lot of work is being done around making data centers more efficient, in particular in terms of air management and cooling systems.
Dealing with e-waste. Electronic waste is a big problem because it contains toxic material. Some e-waste can be sold because it contains substances that can be recoverable, such as gold and silver. Countries and regions, such as Europe, have regulations which ban e-waste from landfills.
Ethical issues. A growing discussion revolves around exploring the ethical issues in new IT innovations, such as issues around the 3D printing of weapons, artificial intelligence, or privacy issues.
Information systems (IS) are any combination of information technology and people’s activities that support operations, management, and decision-making. Green IS refers to the design and implementation of information systems that contribute to sustainable business practices.
For example, IS can help an organization reduce transportation costs with fleet management systems and dynamic routing of vehicles to avoid traffic congestion and minimize energy consumption.
Green IS is increasingly being developed to give us access to information on demand, to know where things are at any given moment – whether that be a package or a person – and to provide a single source of accurate data to help with decision-making. Uses also include:
Creating smarter, more sustainable cities such as smart buildings, logistics, vehicles, grids, etc.
Creating smarter supply chains by bringing together information from across the supply chain, including the ability to share information around logistics, management, tracking, monitoring but also resource reuse and recycling.
Creating smarter organizations by bringing together information that already exists around sustainability across the system and gathering new information to raise awareness and provide information for better decision-making.
Taking the data and putting it into perspective so people can collect, analyze, report, set strategies, set targets all from the same viewpoint.
Putting the information into the right person’s hands, whenever they need it and wherever they are.
UPS has a project called telematics, where its delivery trucks each have a black box that records data such as seatbelt usage, harsh braking, idling time, reversing, speed, and routes.
The data is then mined to determine how the company could use its fleet better. UPS was able to cut idle time by 24 minutes per driver per day with an estimated fuel saving of US$188 per driver per year.
With 90 000 drivers, this has made a big impact not only on the bottom line but also in terms of reducing emissions and resource consumption.
Unilever, PepsiCo, Marks and Spencer, and other companies that make up the Cool Farm Institute – a group helping growers to reduce the carbon footprint of their produce and livestock – produced a free online tool for farmers to calculate and reduce their footprint.
Another sustainable agriculture group made up of companies such as Wal-Mart, Kellogg, and Coca-Cola created the Fieldprint Calculator, a free tool to help growers analyze how their farming practices impact natural resources.
The increased availability of information through IT and IS is also helping consumers and individuals to make smarter decisions in their daily life. This can include monitors that give real-time information on energy use in the house, for example.
In the USA and Canada, ‘NEST’ smart thermostats are being installed in homes which not only allow remote control from smart devices but also learn your heating/cooling patterns and save energy when the home is empty.
SAP is looking at a project to see if they can break down an individual's ecological footprint within a particular company. Employees would receive a message stating what their footprint in the company this year was, and what percentage of fellow employees had the same footprint, to raise awareness and encourage action.
The bike-sharing scheme Velib in Paris is successful because of its sophisticated information system. Each station has a computer terminal from which an individual can purchase a subscription, recharge an account, or determine available bicycles at nearby stations.
RFID tags that connect each bike to the station enable the locking mechanism. Green IS increases the convenience of Velib, meaning more people use the service.
The challenge with IT and IS in an organization is that there is often limited organizational capacity to commission and manage these types of projects.
In addition, organizations often have a ‘business as usual’ approach to IS and IT – meaning that they are reluctant to change because of the high costs of implementation or the perceived lack of return on investment.
New technology and information systems often require individuals to learn how to use them, which can take a lot of time and effort. However, companies are increasingly realizing that they cannot move forward with their sustainability goals unless they have access to information, and IS is key in providing this.