Digitalization and ecology: Digital Disruption is green! One of the biggest challenges we’re facing today and tomorrow is sustainability. For companies who want to win, digital will be one of the most important allies. In this post, we’ll see why and how.
At the present moment, the world is emerging from an epochal emergency, a pandemic that no one could really predict and perhaps not even imagine. To the extent that countries around the world are emerging from lockdown, this is happening thanks to everyone doing their part. During this time, the economic and administrative system has literally been saved by digital, in these difficult weeks; we cover some of those trends in this post.
In front of us, however, we have another huge challenge, perhaps even bigger than the one we are leaving behind. This is a challenge that will also be won or lost thanks to everyone taking responsibility, and, first and foremost, thanks to the efforts of our economic and production systems. We are talking about the Green Revolution and the fight against climate change which, today more than ever, can no longer be postponed. In this field too, digital is and will be our most valuable ally.
How can digitalization help ecology? In this post, we will look at the microscopic to the macroscopic ways that this is happening, from individual documents in archives to our homes, workplaces, and entire cities. First, however, let us clear the field of great misunderstanding: sustainability is not the enemy of economic growth. This false belief is the product of an outdated mentality. Today, we can safely say that, if anything, the opposite is true. A huge number of new businesses have taken a stand on the subject of respect for the environment, the reduction of emissions, and attention to health; but we are not just talking about successful start-ups. Large, established companies have also changed course, and almost all of them have embraced Digital Disruption and Green Revolution.
One example is the energy company, Enel. The company has restructured its brand image, starting from the transformation of the logo, to targeted marketing operations, up to the creation of entire departments (but also subsidiaries) all focused on renewable energy. Many large players are taking the same path, even in the most rigid and “traditional” sectors.
What is the driving force behind this transformation? Some say the driving force is the customers themselves. It’s customers who are increasingly rewarding responsible, ecologically aware companies.
Global/Webindex, in a survey conducted at the end of 2018, questioned a very large sample of people aged 16 to 64, asking them if they were willing to spend more on eco-friendly products; here are the answers by age group:
- Yes, for 58% of 16 to 21 year olds (the so-called “Generation Z”);
- Yes, for 61% of millennials (22 to 35 years old);
- Yes, for 55% of people aged 36 to 54 (the “Generation X”);
- The percentage drops, but not by much, for “Baby Boomers” (aged 55 to 64): 46% of them are willing to pay more for a green product or service
We believe that these figures speak for themselves. You can find them here (and these are one of many studies where the numbers all point in the same direction). Now, we’ll look more closely at why Digital Disruption is green and the way to combine effectively digitalization and ecology. We’ll start from the document dematerialization, then we’ll move on to the smart home, smart factories, and agile work. We’ll conclude by looking out to the frontier of smart cities.
No more paper! Document digitalization
Digitalization and ecology can be together. Let’s start this overview with a very specific theme, which has impacted industries of all types, but especially on the Public Administration: document digitalization.
The first impact in terms of sustainability, of course, is the saving of tons of paper that often lie in physical archives that are not easily accessed, and which incur the related maintenance and handling costs. But that’s not all: the digitization of documents has enormous advantages in terms of savings for costs, and ease of use and sharing in real-time, and also for security.
A digital document is a precious source of data, which can be collected, processed, analyzed, and interpreted automatically. To put it another way: having a digital archive is the first way to get to know your audience of customers and users. With this, a company or public administration can, based on this information, build targeted marketing and Customer Care operations. In this field, the frontier is that of personalization: transforming simple data into relationships, with a one-to-one perspective; and this is what specialized companies like Doxee are dealing with.
If we move into the field of Public Administration, on the other hand, it is more correct to speak of dematerialization. In Italy, this concept was introduced in 2005 with the Digital Administrative Code, which imposed precise legal requirements.
Green and digital houses
The homes where we live will be increasingly intelligent and digital. At the same time, they will be less and less pollutant. This is a way to combine effectively digitalization and ecology. All of this will be made possible by the increasingly widespread diffusion of the Internet of Things (IoT). We are not talking about the near future. Quite the opposite. Smart homes are already the present. And we are only at the beginning of this revolution.
What are we talking about?
- The smart home is about digital home assistants, based on voice commands, data analysis, and artificial intelligence: think of Alexa or Google Home, devices that become more and more functional, efficient and customized.
- Then there is home automation, the digital systems for lighting, heating, air conditioning, and security.
- There are also smart meters that many Utility companies make available today.
Here, it’s important to underline that it is not only a matter of comfort, it’s also about reducing consumption, on the one hand, and emissions, on the other. Once again, with digital you gain efficiency, quality of life, and sustainability, in an unprecedented virtuous circle.
Smart Working and the Smart Factory
These features of the smart home can also be applied— even more so, and on an increased scale—to the world of manufacturing. The IoT, in fact, is the engine of the so-called Industry 4.0, a Fourth Industrial Revolution that is based on digital, and first of all, on data and analytics. With analytics, we’re talking about the ability to analyze this information, with the opportunities offered by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the gigantic side of human-machine interaction.
But that’s not all, as far as the world of work is concerned. Again, a Smart Factory is an industry that continuously optimizes its production processes. So, again, this translates into substantial savings, reduction of waste, increased monitoring, and reduction of polluting emissions.
But that’s not all, as far as the world of work is concerned. Similarly, “agile work”, if well managed, can bring many advantages, even in “normal” times. With many employees working from home, there is less movement of people, and this leads to fewer emissions and more benefits for the environment. This form of sustainability is also an improvement in the quality of life of individuals and the community.
Greener and more digital cities
Digitalization and ecology: we started by digitizing simple paper documents; then we widened our gaze to digital homes, more digital workplaces and digital factories. Now, it’s only natural that we should think about digital (and increasingly green) cities.
This is what is meant by the term “Smart City,” an increasingly interconnected city, where infrastructures can communicate with citizens and improve their quality of life: A more efficient city, on a human scale, with a significant reduction in pollution.
The most cited examples are those of Dubai, Amsterdam, Prague, and Trento, Italy. But the first city to focus on becoming more green was Barcelona, which has put in place a targeted and specific transformation strategy for the city since the early 2000s. In this way, the Catalan city has created 47,000 new jobs. In addition, through the implementation of sensors and IoT systems, it has saved 42.5 million in the water system alone, making it much more efficient. Today, public lighting is based on LEDs. These aren’t just simple street lamps; sensors are mounted on them that collect data on pollution, atmospheric conditions, and presence and flow of people.
Then there is everything that concerns the waste collection, public and private mobility, and energy generation from renewable sources. This idea of a self-sufficient city, made up of productive and human-scale neighborhoods, within a hyper-connected and zero-emission metropolitan area is laid out in the “Barcelona Smart City Strategy” released in 2013 (see here).
And here the circle is closed: digital improves the quality of life of individuals, but also of entire cities. It produces work and wealth. And, at the same time, it has a profoundly positive impact on the environment. This is the paradigm shift towards which we must move!