Sustainable Technology and Climate Change: What You Need to Know in 2022
Today’s climate crisis is one of the world’s most pressing concerns, and sustainable technology solutions are imperative to combat the crisis as global emissions continue to rise quickly.
Fortunately, new network technologies and digital transformations across industries have connected our world. Technology has the power to restore environments and offer long-term solutions to the climate crisis.
Climate Change in North America
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cautioned that the world could see irreversible damages if the rise in global temperatures isn’t kept below 1.5C (Source: BBC). North America has already started to face the consequences, as extreme weather events are becoming more common and severe over the years (Source: UNEP). Here are some examples of how climate change is affecting North America:
- Record-breaking heatwaves: a heat wave in 2021 that affected BC, Alberta, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories broke 103 heat records. Among those records, Canada reported the highest temperature ever seen in Lytton, B.C, at 49.6C, 21.6 degrees above BC’s normal average July temperature of 28C (Source: The Guardian). Heat waves will become more regular and intense as global warming persists.
- Rising sea levels: Rising sea levels pose risks to human and ecological systems. Coastal communities were named one of Canada’s top six climate-related risk regions in 2019 (Source: University of Waterloo). Melting glaciers, heavy rainfall, and changing tides lead to rising sea levels and coastal flooding.
- Wildfires: climate change creates optimal conditions for wildfires since warmer temperatures make it easier for dry materials to catch fire (Source: CBC). In BC alone, there were 1,642 wildfires from April 1, 2021, to March 28, 2022 (Source: Government of British Columbia).
Human activity is the primary cause of climate change, with burning fossil fuels as one of the main contributing factors (Source: Government of Canada). When people burn fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions are released into the atmosphere, leading to significant changes in temperature. Fossil fuel emissions are among many other contributors to climate change, including deforestation, farming, transportation, and food waste.
The time to act is now. One clear way to help address the climate crisis is by leveraging sustainable technology.
What is Sustainable Technology?
Sustainable technology is an umbrella term with two main ideas, both of which include innovations that foster social, economic, and environmental prosperity:
- Technology that helps mitigate an existing environmental problem. For example, renewable energy technology uses wind and solar power sources to generate energy, minimizing carbon pollution and the need for burning fossil fuels.
- Technology that directly addresses an environmental issue. For example, carbon capture technologies capture and store carbon emissions from the atmosphere. By 2050, carbon capture could reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 14% (Source: Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions).
Why is Sustainable Technology Important? Why Do We Need It?
Technology encourages individuals to make more sustainable choices that benefit the environment, economies, and governments. Digital technology has the potential to cut global emissions by 17% (Source: UNEP).
Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why technology is essential for sustainability.
Mitigating the Climate Crisis
|Environmental Issue||How Can Sustainable Technology Help?|
|Burning Fossil Fuels for Energy: greenhouse gasses warm the planet, and a warmer planet means unpredictable weather patterns, rising sea levels, food shortages, and several other concerns.||By transitioning to sustainable technology that optimizes renewable energy, we can rely less on fossil fuels, reducing our carbon footprint. Renewable energy sources emit an estimated 50g or less CO2 per kWh, in contrast to coal’s 1000 g CO2/kWh and natural gas’s 475 g CO2/kWh (Source: WRI).|
|Food Waste: food waste decomposing in landfills turns into methane gas, producing one-quarter of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (Source: Earth.org).||Several mobile apps exist today that promote innovative ways to reduce food waste, from apps that guide consumers toward restaurants with a surplus of food to AI that analyzes food waste patterns. The food waste app and business Too Good to Go has prevented more than 72,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions while also saving 29 million meals (Source: Zero Waste Europe).|
|Biodiversity Crisis: changing weather patterns place severe pressure on species. Several species are impacted by climate change, and the most significant challenges presented are habitat loss, damaged ecosystems, and even species extinction. Climate change may cause the extinction of one-third of all plant and animal species on the globe by 2070 (Source: USA Today).||Based on collected environmental data, machine learning can monitor plant and animal activity while recommending solutions to reduce habitat deterioration and avoid climate change-related disasters.|
Economic Opportunities: Sustainable Tech Drives Innovation
While supporting the preservation of our planet, sustainable technology also helps strengthen economies. Many businesses and individuals see challenges as opportunities. In the face of the climate crisis, there’s an opportunity to boost economies by creating jobs and expanding commercial prospects in the sustainable technology sector.
By 2025, it’s estimated that there’ll be 173,000 environmental job opportunities across Canada (Source: CBC). The need for sustainable tech innovation creates new jobs and opportunities, giving start-ups and scaleups the chance to grow and commercialize. There’s also a vast opportunity for attracting and creating talent among students.
Examples of Sustainable Technology Solutions
There are many examples of sustainable technology solutions in use today, with importance placed on products that lower carbon impact across industries, including energy, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and construction.
Renewable Energy Technology and Smart Grids
The second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is electricity production, with fossil fuels accounting for around 60% of its electricity (Source: EPA). Energy management is a crucial component in the fight against climate change, and one example of an efficient way to manage energy is through renewable energy technology. This type of energy uses renewable sources such as wind and solar power to generate energy.
One perceived barrier to renewable energy sources is that they’re not reliable since it’s not always sunny or windy. The challenge is storing those energy sources, and many organizations are finding ways to do so. For instance, some power plants concentrate sunlight into heat salt through mirrors (Source: The Conversation). This method enables concentrated solar electricity to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Smart grids are crucial to leveraging renewable energy and lowering energy usage in total. Smart grids are a digital technology that enables us to use energy more efficiently. They foster two-way communication between the energy provider and the consumer, allowing for enhanced energy production and transport, lower energy consumption and costs, and supply chain monitoring (Source: i-SCOOP).
So, what’s the difference between smart grids and traditional electricity grids? Well, the two-way communication in smart grids provides the ability to fix problems that could lead to energy waste faster. For instance, extreme weather conditions often disrupt electricity, causing power outages and energy waste. With the two-way monitoring of a smart grid, problems are detected and responded to faster and more efficiently, enabling energy conservation.
Sustainable Technologies in Agriculture/Food Production
Agriculture is responsible for around 8% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (Source: Climate Atlas of Canada). Luckily, sustainable technologies are helping lower traditional agriculture’s carbon footprint.
Precision agriculture boosts efficiency, reduces waste, and helps drive sustainability. With precision agriculture technologies, such as drones that read crop quality and IoT sensors that capture crop data, farmers have the information to optimize their use of pesticides, water, and other resources (Source: CropLife Canada). Automation technology is also used in precision agriculture to streamline manual operations, allowing farmers to concentrate their time and resources on other farming tasks (Source: Robustel).
Vertical farming involves vertically stacking and building up rows of crops to reduce the amount of land needed for agriculture (Source: Eden Green). Artificial temperature, light, and humidity control are required for this farming method to succeed. Vertical farming uses AI and IoT technologies to monitor and grow crops through automation. Agriculture’s digital transformation will dramatically reduce the environmental impact of food production by producing more crops with less land and resources.
Discover how Vertical Farming is changing the agriculture sector in Vertical Farming: The Future of Agriculture?
Sustainable Technology in Manufacturing
A key component in making manufacturing sustainable is automation. Several manufacturing processes can be automated with machine learning, improving efficiency and less energy consumption (Source: Gray). Automation is also used in software, and products are available that help manufacturers identify the areas of their operations that are most energy-dependent by contextualizing large amounts of process data (Source: Blue & Green Tomorrow). Organizations can use data monitoring to track various metrics like energy consumption and material usage (Source: IoT For All). With this data, manufacturers can manage their resources better and ensure that their machines run efficiently.
Sustainable technology in manufacturing also plays a significant role in transitioning society to a circular economy. A circular economy is a system that eliminates waste, reuses resources, and extends the lifetime of a product (Source: World Economic Forum). The role of a manufacturer in this system is to ensure the longevity of components. For instance, manufacturers should design products to ensure the longevity of materials. Hence, they remain in this circular system longer, preventing them from ending up in landfills and turning into e-waste. This will allow manufacturers to use old electronics by reintroducing their materials into new components.
Sustainable Technology in Mining
To build sustainable technologies, we need materials, and part of building a sustainable society is addressing how we get those materials.
Canada’s mining industry provides the raw materials to develop sustainable low-carbon technologies. For instance, minerals such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt are needed to build sustainable technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric car batteries (Source: The World Bank).
However, the mining industry faces several challenges when it comes to sustainability. Energy consumption is a leading environmental problem in this sector, as mining consumes 10% of the world’s energy (Source: The World Counts). A transition to digital technologies is required to limit the industry’s environmental impact.
Smart mining is the integration of digital technology into traditional mining. This operation leverages technology and connectivity to make mining processes more sustainable.
Many digital technologies regulate energy consumption in mining. Smart ventilation is an example of an automated system used in smart mining using sensors to detect harmful fumes and gasses (Source: Ericsson). Smart ventilation can save energy with automated controls and real-time monitoring anywhere between 15% to 50% (Source: Maestro Digital Mine).
Dig into how Smart Mining supports Canada: The Value of Smart Mining: Fuelling Innovation and Supporting the Canadian Economy
Sustainable Technology in Construction
The future of sustainability in the construction industry depends on embracing digital construction technologies. According to the United Nations, in 2020, technology has the potential to cut carbon emissions from construction by 40% (Source: UN).
DIRRT, a Canadian global leader in industrialized construction, is one example of how companies can leverage digital technology to make construction more sustainable. Their custom visual software, ICE, leverages virtual reality and connects directly with the company’s manufacturing equipment, eliminating the need for on-site interior construction. DIRRT’s innovative technology enables the company to design, manufacture, and install customized interior environments, requiring less energy and eliminating the need for carbon-emitting machinery. According to the business, its solutions result in an average 12% decrease in energy use and a 25% smaller global footprint (Source: Information Week).
Sustainable construction technologies could also help individuals foster sustainability within their construction teams through innovative solutions such as cloud-based construction management software (Source: Viewpoint). Cloud-based construction management software is helping companies become more sustainable in their practices by streamlining processes, eliminating waste, and tracking carbon usage in projects.
With rapidly growing populations comes the need for more buildings and places for people to live. Urbanization links to climate change, as clearing land for more building space creates pollution and destroys ecosystems.
Luckily, urbanization is undergoing a smart city digital transformation. Smart cities leverage advanced technologies such as IoT and 5G to improve city operations and quality of life. They also offer several environmental benefits, such as an 80% reduction in energy usage from smart street lighting and an 8% reduction in traffic congestion from smart traffic management (Source: IEA).
How smart will Smart Cities be? Find out in The Smart Cities of Tomorrow Enabled by 5G and IoT.
Opportunities to Improve Tech Sustainability
In a world more digitally connected than ever, there’s a constant demand for new technology which requires networks, data centers, and applications. Even though we’ve just seen that digital technology is the key to being more sustainable across industries, the one drawback is the significant carbon footprint left by networks and data centers themselves.
Today, the technology industry accounts for about 2% to 3% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (Source: UN). If left unregulated, data center energy use might consume more than 10% of the global electricity supply by 2030 (Source: Data Center Knowledge).
Most large service and public cloud providers are attempting to curb the impacts right now. Improved cooling systems and updated servers are measures businesses such as Google and Facebook employ to combat this problem (Source: Forbes).
Google leverages AI to manage its cooling systems by monitoring and automatically reacting to weather and operational conditions. In 2016, their machine learning technology resulted in a 40% reduction in cooling energy use over 18 months (Source: Google).
Using their system Autoscale, Facebook minimizes the number of servers that must be on during low-traffic hours, resulting in a 10–15% reduction in energy use (Source: Data Center Knowledge).
Are you looking for ways to foster sustainable technology in your IT department? Check out How to Build Sustainable Technology Practices within Your IT Department.
According to a study from the University of British Columbia, approximately 725 000 tonnes of e-waste is produced annually in Canada, and only 20% of it is appropriately recycled (Source: MDPI). Large tech businesses generate much e-waste, which ends up in landfills and pollutes the environment, leading to an increased demand for stricter regulations on recycling e-waste.
Today, the average smartphone lasts only two to three years (Source: Hyla Mobile).
Tech products are constantly being discarded and replaced as their components are designed to wear out. The product becomes outdated or unusable, a concept otherwise known as planned obsolescence (Source: Investopedia). Planned obsolescence encourages a “buy new and buy frequently” mindset, which adds to a culture of e-waste (Source: Environmental Law Institute).
E-waste is hazardous to the environment. When exposed to heat, harmful chemicals such as mercury leaches into the atmosphere, contaminating the soil, water, and air (Source: Geneva Environment Network). Keeping e-waste out of landfills by adequately recycling electronics is one of the best ways to prevent these environmental risks. Besides recycling, some other ways to reduce e-waste include purchasing products with a label indicating the product is environmentally friendly and donating or repairing used electronics.
5 Sustainable Technology Trends in 2022
Making The Switch to Sustainable Technology
Today, there are hundreds of innovative technology solutions out there that support sustainability.
Ultimately, the responsibility falls to all of us: the innovators, large service providers, manufacturers, and consumers. It’s up to manufacturers to adopt sustainable practices in development and up to consumers to make environmentally friendly choices. Businesses and large corporations can also adopt sustainable technologies and promote sustainability company-wide.
Look at six sustainable technology trends that you or your organization could embrace.
- Food Waste Apps: apps like Too Good to Go help connect customers to local restaurants and stores with a surplus of food. The food is sold at a discounted price and helps businesses reduce food waste.
- Recycling e-Waste: e-waste is discarded products with a battery or plug. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor, a new high of 2.7 million tons of e-waste was reported in 2020. To reduce this impact, you can donate old or unwanted tech products to be refurbished or recycle them properly.
- Smart Mobility: opting for carbon-conscious transportation methods such as electric public transport or rideshares.
- Blockchain: Enables companies to track their carbon usage through detailed reporting. With these reports, businesses can see where most of their emissions come from, helping them restructure their practices and decrease emissions. Aside from its environmental benefits, blockchain plays a significant role in cybersecurity.
To learn more about blockchain, check out The Benefits and Vulnerabilities of Blockchain Security.
- Cloud Sustainability: Migrating a company’s technology from data centers to the cloud can help cut carbon emissions by using fewer servers and increasing efficiency.
A Green Future with Sustainable Technology
Developing and commercializing sustainable technologies is an investment in a green future.
Technology is essential for environmental sustainability. Sustainable technology enables individuals to undo the damaging consequences of human activities on the environment. Adopting innovative sustainable tech solutions supports individuals in reducing their environmental impact while addressing complex climate issues, including excessive energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and e-waste. Adopting these technologies should continue to be a top priority for governments, large corporations, and businesses.
Combatting the climate crisis is possible, but it requires everyone to do their part in making more sustainable choices.
Sustainable Technology and Entrepreneurship
Sustainable technology allows entrepreneurs to create innovative technology solutions that benefit the environment, economies, governments, and vertical industries.
Investing in sustainable technology means investing in the innovation economy and commercialization opportunities for new businesses. If you’re a small or medium-sized business with a sustainable tech solution, here’s a chance to test and commercialize your solution – for free.