How can industries become more sustainable?
In 2015, the United Nations defined a roadmap to reach an equitable sustainable society by 2050. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs look at climate and biodiversity, health and life quality, food and water, energy, economic growth, and social equality. SDG 9 aims to build a resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
1, 2, 3: carbon accounting
Before you can take targeted action, you need to know where your business is. To know their carbon footprint and problem zones, companies perform carbon accounting or carbon management. This process measures the carbon emissions related to the product, services and organization as a whole in 3 areas. Scope 1 are the GHG emissions created directly by the company, such as transport and machine operation; scope 2 are the indirect emissions from purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling; and scope 3 are the emissions from suppliers, partners and customers, for which the company is indirectly responsible. Scope 3 usually accounts for 60% of the carbon footprint, but is also the hardest one to track because of less transparency and traceability.
Digitalization increases the visibility and provides data for the supply chain decarbonization. An increasing number of start-ups provide carbon accounting and tracking tools: in 2020, StartUs Insights identified 158 startups in this field alone. Possible applications are: supplier ratings and risk analytics, comparison to competitors, sustainability and quality control, end-to-end traceability platforms, supply chain emission quantification for products, etc. They allow business to track their carbon footprint with fewer expenses, manual efforts, and time, and enable a targeted approach to lower the footprint.
Nothing to waste: the need of a circular economy
The circular economy is an economic model of production and consumption that prioritizes reusing, recycling and sharing products and materials instead of just disposing them. Currently, the world consumes over 100 Gt of materials per year, but only 8.6% are reused. This endless production not only causes a huge amount of emissions (70% of all emissions are generated by the extraction, processing and manufacturing of goods), but will increasingly lead to resource shortages.
A good example are minerals. Minerals are not only necessary for our everyday technological appliances, but also for the energy transition: many cleantech applications, such as EV's and wind turbines, depend on them to function. To meet the growing demand, researchers expect that the production of minerals could increase to 500% by 2050. Minerals are a finite source and very unevenly distributed, so recycling and reusing becomes essential to keep up with the demand, and VCs are looking forward to solutions.
By reducing the volume of used materials, use resources longer, and replace fossil fuels by renewables, we could decrease the consumption amount to 79 Gt/year, which would mean a GHG emissions cut of 39%. If we make changes in the production and consumption of plastic packaging for example, we could reduce the GHG emissions from plastics by 7x. Of the over 380m tonnes annually produced worldwide, only 16% is currently recycled; the rest is landfilled (40%), incinerated (25%), or dumped (19%).
Industry 4.0 = digitalization
The 4th industrial revolution evolves sustainable manufacturing and relies heavily on digitalization. Industry 4.0 incorporates smart technologies to monitor and improve the complex supply chains. Its goals are to improve quality and productivity, reduce waste, and be more customer-oriented. Thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), all back-end systems and the different elements of the supply chain are interconnected. The building blocks of Industry 4.0 have an even greater potential when used together:
- Big data, AI analytics, and machine learning: insights from the gathered data leverage decentralized decision-making and automation
- Horizontal and vertical integration: data and knowledge become easily accessible by integrating production processes at the field level and connecting the different layers of the organization
- Cloud computing
- Augmented reality (AR): allows the visualization of real-time data and more while looking at the equipment or product, which can save time and resources in maintenance, training, and testing
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
- 3D printing/additive manufacturing: can be used for both mass customization and distributed manufacturing, and reduce costs and transportation for new parts
- Autonomous robots: perform difficult and/or repetitive tasks with little human intervention
- Simulation/digital twins: virtual simulations of a real-world machine, product, process, or system are made possible by IoT sensor data. This virtual manufacturing allows businesses to better analyze and improve their performance and maintenance
- Cybersecurity: when everything is connected, threat detection and prevention are essential to minimize the risk of data breaches
These new technologies allow the standardization of systems, shorter development periods, increased resource efficiency, flexibility, increased automation and mechanization, and the creation of sometimes completely digital environments.
Finally, industrial transportation becomes a bit cleaner as well: electric truck companies know an increasing customer base, and the first electric ships are coursing the waves. The sector also makes more use of big data: with data logging systems they can track their fuel consumption, optimize their routes and capacity utilization, and monitor their maintenance needs.
Let's make a sustainable industry possible
Sustainable industrialization encompasses a broad range of actions, going from increased recycling to developing new technologies and materials. The use of data will allow us to make industries more efficient and explore new possibilities, although it will not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Nevertheless: these actions need to be taken now. If you need help in this digitalization, reach out to Noldev. We provide custom software solutions to mitigate climate change and would love to hear about your project.