Anna-Karin Jönbrink Section Manager Environment and Sustainability at AFRY

Sustainability and Digitization go hand in hand

Publicerad: 25 May 2021

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important, and there are many different concepts, rules and initiatives that affect society, companies, and individuals, in different ways. At the same time, we see a rapid development where Digitization is a key. How is all this connected? The following chronicle tries to sort out the concepts.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important, and we see that the demands are increasing on sustainability, from society but also from customers and individuals with requirements on products and companies. We have seen a development from the Brundtland Commission (Our common Future) where it was established in 1987 that "Sustainable development is a development that satisfies today's needs without jeopardizing future generations' opportunities to satisfy their needs", to Agenda 2030 where the UN in 2015 agreed on 17 SDGs (sustainable development goals). As a result of the current pandemic, sustainability issues have come even higher on the agenda, and many decision makers believe that the only way for society and industry to recover is to invest in sustainable solutions.

New tools to ensure sustainability are being developed, such as the EU Taxonomy, a tool that classifies which investments are environmentally sustainable, something that has attracted great interest among many companies that want to be able to be classified as sustainable. In order to meet the requirements of Taxonomy, or to be able to make sustainability reports, for example according to GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) or TCFD (Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure), a framework for identifying companies' climate-related financial risks and opportunities, it is also necessary to work with sustainability in a company. It can be about doing sustainability scanning to identify how to influence sustainability goals in a positive or negative direction, to make quantitative calculations, for example through life cycle assessment for products or calculate a business' climate impact according to the Greenhouse gas Protocol.

All of these methods are about measuring or reporting, which is important to know is what to change, but we also need to CHANGE products and businesses towards more sustainable solutions. Circular Economy is a way of creating systems that enable products, components, raw materials, and resources to be circulated, reused in the best way. Ecodesign is a concept for developing products with minimal environmental impact, both during their use, but also so that they fit into the circular systems. But what does all this have to do with Digitization?

Digitization can be an enabler for Sustainability, for example by creating opportunities to keep track of components and materials in a circular economy using RFID tags and databases, but also through AI tools that can optimize, for example, energy use, or apps that help individuals to make wise, sustainable decisions. There are of course lots of good examples where digitalisation contributes to sustainable development. But the development where we see more and more digitalisation, also creates sustainability challenges. For example, how do we ensure that all rare or toxic substances contained in sensors and electronics are disposed right when not in use any longer? How can we ensure that we have enough raw materials to be able to manufacture the digital solutions (electronics, sensors, batteries…) in the future? As I see it, when developing digital solutions, one must also take these issues into account, otherwise future generations will find it difficult to create their sustainable, digital solutions!

Published 2021-05-25  |  Authored by Anna-Karin Jönbrink