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Innovation is key to solve climate issues - part 3 - The IT and Tech sector as change enabler

This blog is the last article in a series of 3 blogs on how climate issues can be solved through a worldwide roll-out of technological innovations. This last blog focuses on how the IT/Tech sector can help in facilitating the transition towards climate neutrality.
Just like the Financial Services sector (see blog 2 -, the IT/Tech sector itself is not a large polluter of global warming emissions, but is also well positioned to influence the decision process of companies and consumers.

Just like the Financial Services sector, the IT/Tech sector has also a large number of tools available to facilitate this change. Below are some examples via which the IT/Tech sector can greatly support the reduction of global warming emissions:

  • Reducing passenger transport: yearly thousands of tons of CO2 are emitted by cars, busses, planes…​ in order to transport people from one place to the other. Often these displacements don’t come with a necessity to be physically present (i.e. to do a physical action) but to execute administrative work or to see/talk/discuss/work with other people (e.g. think about how many international flights are taken just for a meeting, sales discussion or signing a contract in person).
    Most of these displacements can be avoided via digital media, such as conference calls, video calls…​
    However as we have all experienced (especially during the Covid-19 confinement periods), the personal interaction is not as simple via a digital medium than in a physical meeting. It will therefore be a challenge for the IT/Tech sector to make video calls simpler and more intuitive (avoiding the common issues everyone experiences in an online call) and more collaborative (e.g. tooling to allow digital white-board sessions). This can be done via techniques like projecting all participants in a virtual meeting room or techniques using AR/VR, by automatic transcription of virtual meetings, by improving quality of the connections (e.g. by automatic muting in case of background noise, by automatic filtering out of noises or by automatically disabling video in case of network limitations) or by a more seamless integration of different tools (like Skype, Teams, Slack, Zoom, WebEx…​) meaning that everyone can call in with its own most familiar tool, but can still join 1 and the same meeting…​

  • Reducing energy consumption of computers. With digitalization exponentially increasing worldwide, the total electricity consumption of hardware is becoming a major concern. While software has many non-functional requirements on robustness, availability, performance…​, electricity consumption is usually not yet one of them. It will be important to optimize for this metric as well, by providing better monitoring and optimization tools.
    While most of these optimizations can come from more awareness (visualize and debug which electricity consumption is needed to execute certain parts of the code), allowing programmers to take this constraint more into account while programming, many of these optimizations can also come automatically via:

    • Compilers, trying to optimize also for electricity consumption

    • Optimized resource sharing in the cloud, e.g. via Functions-as-a-Service (like AWS Lambda).

    • Optimized hardware, like a more optimal usage of existing transistors, which has as additional advantage that this will also result in less heat production, which requires less cooling (reducing again the electricity consumption)

    • Optimized management of data centers. E.g. recently Google has started to use artificial intelligence to manage its data centers, decreasing the total energy usage of its data centers by 15% and cutting the energy usage for cooling by 40%.

    • …​

  • Save energy via digitalization: the IT/Tech sector has the potential to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20% by helping companies and consumers to more intelligently use and save energy. Typical examples are digital thermostats, which learn via AI, to optimize heating based on the identified patterns of living of the residents. In the industry, by measuring and monitoring all aspects of a production process, significant energy gains can also be obtained.

  • Setup and build platform to share resources, reducing the overall need to continuously produce new resources. This includes digital marketplace platforms, which allow to share/rent resources, to sell 2nd hand resources, to facilitate ecosystems where waste of 1 factory is use a resource for another industry…​

  • By stimulating a change of behavior: the big tech giants, i.e. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, influence the decisions of billions of consumers every day and this influence continues to grow via AI. This influence can be put to good use by pushing consumers towards low-carbon choices. Typical tools could be ranking more ecological firms higher in search results, pushing more content to incentivize people about global warming on social media or via gamification help to change people’s behavior (e.g. by pushing people to walk/bike more instead of taking their car).

The above shows that the IT/Tech sector can also be an important part of the puzzle towards positive change. I hope the 3 blogs in this serie show that with the right mindset, the global warming issue can be solved, without putting a constraint on economic growth. The Financial Services and IT/Tech sector, together with the Media and Government sector should be the main catalysators of this shift in perception.

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