It’s time to embrace Sustainability Transformation. And the good news is that we already have the tools to achieve it. Digital technologies will enable businesses to strengthen their resilience to change and make their sustainable goals a reality. But can they use those technologies effectively?
Technology plays a vital role
“Technology plays an absolutely integral and fundamental role in Sustainability Transformation,” says Ioannis Ioannou, Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. “It has many, many dimensions through which it contributes.”
So a company-wide Sustainability Transformation strategy should be intertwined with the technology strategy, with digital innovation as the focus. This will ensure that decisions about digital and sustainability are aligned from the start and that one area isn’t prioritised at the expense of the other.
“Whether it’s carbon-capture technologies, which are still in their very early stages, or electric vehicles, or new types of aeroplanes, or new types of ships, the options are endless. The way we build our cities in the future will rely on new technologies.”
Existing technologies will enable Sustainability Transformation today, but to achieve more fundamental changes on a larger scale, businesses will also have to look into emerging technologies.
The quantum computing advantage
Quantum computing is still an emerging technology. But innovations such as Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer, which uses a digital circuit design to rapidly solve complex problems without the complication and costs associated with pure quantum methods, help to bridge the gap while quantum matures.
It’s a technology that supports sustainability in some crucial ways, according to Ellen Devereux, Quantum Computing Consultant at Fujitsu.
“We're looking at carbon-capture materials, and we're going to need better batteries in our future green renewable society,” she says. “Quantum computing will assist in the understanding of better materials for this going forward.
“And then you can look further, and you can think about producing more food for our ever-growing population. And that's something we've recently developed with Bayer. We’re asking what resources do we have? What's our supply chain, and what are the constraints on that supply chain? And how can we increase our crop yield from that supply chain? And that again is an optimisation problem. There are so many optimisation problems, and every single one of those has a sustainability thread to it.”
Quantum computing doesn’t have all the answers yet. There are downsides to this huge computational power, which is expensive and difficult to run, and the technology required to implement it is still not widely available.
So as they invest in quantum computing for the long term, companies should also be investing in existing technology to power their Sustainability Transformation. An example of this would be Fujitsu’s work with AutoGrid to maximise distributed energy resources in Japan.
Knowledge is power
To keep up with these new technologies, companies must educate themselves. The first step here is to recognise where they need technology and digital innovation, what technology they need and how it could help.
“The first step is education,” says Devereux. “So that could be at the leadership level, or it could mean setting up your own small centre of excellence – a small team that can keep abreast of the market advancements, understand and start to skill up in some of the languages or the use cases that will be applicable to your industry.”
This education involves understanding which technologies to use now and in the future, and how these support the Sustainability Transformation strategy and overall business goals. Thinking ahead is vital, especially when considering that mandatory requirements surrounding sustainability initiatives are only going to increase.
“Even if today there's no government pressure on you as a company, that's probably going to come,” says Seb Henbest, Group Head of Climate Transition at HSBC. “The more ready you are for that, the better, and the more able you're going to be to pivot your business at the right time, in the right way to do well as the world shifts. You don't want to be left behind.”