Earth Day is here. Is tech innovation its best ally?
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Every April 22 people come together to take action that will protect the environment. The theme of this year’s Earth Day is ‘Invest In Our Planet’. So how is investment in eco-innovation helping to deliver a more sustainable future?
When it comes to the environment, it can be argued that the technology industry is both the problem and the solution.
Why the problem? Because experts say tech is responsible for between 3.5 percent and 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This ranks it above even aviation. Meanwhile the EU estimates that the Information Technology and Communication (ICT) sector is responsible for 10 percent of all electricity consumption.
Why the solution? Because we all want a prosperous future for the planet. Yet we also want the convenience and fun of modern living. Only eco-innovation can deliver the solutions needed to satisfy both aspirations.
Eco-innovation is the key to doing more with less
All over the world, and across many different industries, innovators are working to reduce human footprint while improving productivity. A good example? Precision farming.
Until very recently, most agricultural improvements were mechanical in nature. Now digital tools are kickstarting a new wave of efficiencies. Agtech innovations look to increase farm efficiency and decrease input waste through precision farming techniques. The Internet of Things is at the heart of many. Precision farming companies are embedding real-time sensors located in the field or in equipment. The data collected by these sensors help farmers make better decisions about where to allocate effort and resources while minimizing environmental footprint. GPS technology makes planting and input application far more accurate than manual tractor methods, meaning that farmers can decrease waste and excess fertilizer use.
As we approach Earth Day on April 22, the pressure is on the tech industry to keep working on the inventions like those described above. These breakthroughs will help us all to do more with less.
Meanwhile, tech firms are also facing calls to keep their own houses in order. Legislators and consumers want them to use fewer materials in the manufacturing and re-think their approach to recycling and waste.
The good news is that governments, regulators and eco-innovative companies themselves are already committed to a major clean-up mission.
Replacement needs replacing – the pendulum swings to repairs
In November 2020, the EU Parliament declared its intention to make the repair of everyday products easier. It clearly had tech in mind. At over 10 million tons per year, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe. Repairing products and making them last longer is an obvious remedy for this.
The EU Parliament called for longer warranties, more accessible replacement parts and better information around general repair and maintenance. In January 2022 the European Commission responded with the following plans.
• Restarting the legal warranty period for products that have been repaired
• Creating a right to repair for defects caused by wear and tear or mishandling within a set period of time – potentially two years.
• Amending the Sale of Goods Directive to ensure that repair, rather than replacement, is the primary remedy available to consumers.
• Providing a longer legal warranty period for repair or replacement of a defective product
• Extending the legal warranty period for second-hand and refurbished products to equal that of new products
A similar 'right to repair' bill is now also under discussion in the US.
Mobile gets the sustainability message
Smart companies share the regulators’ desire to reduce tech footprint. This is especially evident in the telecoms business. Sustainability was a key theme at the Mobile World Congress 2022 show in February. The announcements came thick and fast. They included:
• Orange created a range of initiatives to push the use of refurbished network equipment as part of its circular economy project OSCAR (Orange Sustainable and Circular Ambition for Recirculation). The company now asks suppliers to offer refurbished equipment in tenders and has created an internal marketplace to source used network equipment.
• Fujitsu announced a new virtualized radio access network (vRAN) technology that could reduce CO2 emissions by 50% or more compared to conventional base station systems by 2025.
• Nokia unveiled a base station cooled with water, which uses 90% less energy than air cooled facilities.
• Start up Vidris won the MWC22 'Hack The Planet' prize with a digital passport that rewards consumers for purchasing sustainable products.
• Samsung announced a Galaxy laptop line-up that uses plastic made from discarded fishing nets.
The Samsung news is especially resonant for Thales. Here at Thales, we have created various sustainable payment card solutions. One of our award-winning sustainability projects is the recycled bank card made from reclaimed 70 percent ocean plastic cleared from coastal areas. Bank cards might not be the most pressing environmental problem. Still, 3.5 billion new cards are produced every year, so every effort to chip away at these 'local' challenges helps.
The organisers of Earth Day 2022 say “change starts with action” and celebrate the fact that “a billion acts of green are happening across the planet”. It’s encouraging that so many eco-innovative firms are joining this drive to find ways to do more with less while still bringing exciting new products to the market.
How smart farming technology is planting the seeds for 21st century agriculture
How the Internet of Things will be good for the planet
Using connected cars to go greener