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How the power of tech can help reconcile profit and the planet

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The digital transformation of industry that’s been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic is creating a once-in-a-lifetime chance to establish a better balance between sustainability and business growth.

The events of the past year have presented businesses with challenges that would previously have been hard to imagine. Despite this, amongst the uncertainty and unpredictability, many business leaders have found time to reflect on their priorities. In doing so, two clear themes have emerged. First, the importance of leveraging technology to enable more efficient ways of working. Second, a new depth of understanding about the importance of business behaviour in building a more sustainable world.

The tangible result of these reflections can be summarised quite simply: the Covid-19 pandemic has acted as an incubator, pushing businesses to embrace digital transformation. Now is the moment to seize this opportunity and integrate transformation inextricably with sustainability.

This age of digital transformation presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to strike a better balance between sustainability and overall business profitability. Already, we are beginning to see a clear shift in business priorities from being purely profit driven to incorporating an agenda of positive social impact, with many high-profile global organisations making bold commitments to dramatically cut their carbon emissions. This is something we should expect to see more of over the next year, especially as social media and heightened public scrutiny increase the pressure on organisations to take a stance.

With all this positive noise being made around sustainability in enterprise environments, the focus must now shift from talk to action. We must explore how these commitments can be honoured in a way that is long-lasting and has a positive long-term impact on a business’ bottom line. This is where new technologies come in.

The application of technologies like 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) will be critical as we work to reduce harmful emissions and move towards a zero-carbon, more resilient and future-proof economy. As well as being a key driver of more sustainable business models, the adoption of new technologies is frequently tied to specific business goals, including increased productivity and output.

While these technologies and the benefits they deliver are sector agnostic, it can be helpful to imagine them within a particular context. Take manufacturing, for example. The introduction of 5G to manufacturing enables the creation of smart factories. The level of automation permitted by smart factories allows for real-time links to customer-demand forecasts, flexible production capacity and lower cost of production. Increased visibility and improved pace of production are key drivers that contribute to significantly boosting productivity levels.

In addition to the commercial benefits that 5G will deliver for manufacturers, smart factories will also become safer workplaces than in the past. With increased connectivity and machine learning, the need for hazardous cabling or arduous machine readings will be eliminated, contributing to higher safety levels.

The business benefits are clear, but we must also consider this within the context of sustainability. A recent report from leading telecom operator O2, ‘A Greener Connected Future', estimates that the application of 5G to manufacturing has the potential to save 40 megatonnes of carbon emissions by 2035.

For almost every sector in the UK and beyond, the widespread adoption of new technologies can have a positive impact both for businesses and the environment. It is time to reframe sustainability and profitability from conflicting goals to critical business priorities that coexist in harmony to drive equitable economic growth.

The benefits of technology don’t stop there. As well as creating greener business models, technology can support organisations to be better, more flexible employers. One positive aspect of the pandemic was that it has forced employers to support their workforce with the right technology to work remotely. This is a trend that looks set to persist beyond the pandemic.

Now that remote working structures are firmly established, some may argue that the days of jet-setting executives are over. With many meetings held via video calls, long-haul travel can be minimised and employees can choose to commute to the office less frequently - perhaps only when they have an important meeting. This reduced volume of travel will help to significantly reduce carbon emissions not just in the UK, but across the world.

A connected world is a more sustainable world. Let’s work together to disrupt old patterns and bring this vision to life.

Much uncertainty remains for businesses as we navigate our way out of the Covid pandemic. There is one thing we can be absolutely certain of: climate change isn’t going anywhere. Every single organisation across the globe has an important role to play and I urge you to do right by your customers and the world and consider how technology could make your organisation greener.

Bhushan Patil is SVP EMEA at Tech Mahindra

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