Digital technologies for a green future

Human activity’s negative impacts on our planet and the environment is becoming increasingly apparent to modern civilization. These impacts result in a rise in global temperature, pollution of the ecosystem, and a dramatic reduction in biodiversity.

To slow down and perhaps reverse these trends, we must adapt our current economic activities to make them more eco-friendly. The EU has prioritized this issue in the international community and has set the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050.

Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IOT) are increasingly seen as key enablers to assist us in solving issues related to the negative environmental impact of our industrial processes, buildings and transportation.

Digital applications explicitly aimed at the environmental sector are referred to as ‘green digital’. Such digital technologies are already making a difference in many sectors such as climate monitoring, energy, agriculture, water resources, oceans / marine life, transportation and more.

Digital technologies are already making a difference in many sectors such as climate monitoring, energy, agriculture, water resources, oceans / marine life, transportation and more

The following are some practical examples to illustrate how such systems can take us towards a greener future.

A smart irrigation system that delivers water to crops with precision uses sensors (connected via IOT) distributed on the farmland that the system uses to adjust the water flow only to areas that require it. This translates into significant advances in productivity, yields and costs, while also reducing the impact on water reserves. Similar systems are also used to dose nutrients and fertilizers, assisting in the reduction of global pollution. This translates into ecological benefits as well as the reduction of human disease with the reduced contamination of the environment.

Another example is that of a building management software with AI capability. These systems learn about the behavior of a building and its use patterns as well as factors that act on it, like the changing supply of renewable energy sources like solar panels and factors such as outside conditions like air temperature, sun and wind. The system leverages available controls to optimize a building’s energy consumption in a smart way; for example, by opening natural venting to cooler air outside and louvres for sunlight, it controls the climatisation and lighting of the building resulting in saving energy costs. The system reduces the building’s operating costs while also reducing its carbon footprint by reducing its fuel consumption.

A final example is one that provides decision makers at country and regional level with predictions on the progression of phenomena such as desertification based on virtual models, big data and satellite imagery. Such models bring in vivid focus, changes that are happening over months or years that are ‘imperceptible’ by eye. This allows policymakers to make decisions on where to prioritize resources, such as irrigation and replantation efforts, in order to have maximum effect where needed most urgently.

There is no doubt that climate change and environmental degradation pose an existential threat to the world at large, and that mankind urgently has to devise ways to combat the negative effects of human activity with all possible means.

In this context, digital and other technologies are already being used to great effect and are key drivers in bringing about change in all sectors of the economy to set us on the path towards more resource-efficient, competitive as well as circular processes.

By finding ever more applications to put these tools to use it is possible that we can not only arrest the damage we are inflicting to the environment but also reverse some that has already been done. This would benefit us all and those who come after us.

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