IE Insights is our platform for sharing knowledge on a range of matters affecting the world—from finance, innovation and technology to sustainability, education and the humanities. We draw on the expertise of academics across IE University to provide research-based ideas with the potential to change how we live our lives. This time we take a look at how technology can drive sustainable development.
The Sustainable Development Goals were launched in 2015 as a way to bring together countries across the globe to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. At the core of the 17 Global Goals is the aim to create a more sustainable future by 2030. It is now our responsibility to ensure we work together and use all available opportunities and technologies to create a better future.
The power of technology
Technology is a revolution that has already changed our daily habits. But, we can also use it to improve our daily lives and be more sustainable in the future. The most recent Sustainable Development Goals report from the United Nations recognized the importance of technology in achieving the goals.
According to a new study by the World Economic Forum and PwC, if we employ technological innovation, we could make progress with two-thirds of the 169 targets within the Sustainable Development Goals. Co-Founder and CEO at The Overview Effect, Nacho Rivera, believes we need to improve how we use data, technology and innovation to achieve our goals and create a positive impact. Sustainability is for the many, not the few. Technology is ultimately what enables us to reach the lives of people across the globe—and with this in mind, it’s time for technological innovation to build a sustainable future.
Approaching the Sustainable Development Goals
Nacho Rivera notes that there are three possible ways that we can harness technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and create a better world.
This involves using technologies that completely replace a manual process. For example, digital signatures improve efficiency and reduce paper waste, when compared to traditional paper signatures.
Optimization relies on technology to make a process more efficient by way of data or automation. This includes implementing optimization algorithms in production processes, in turn increasing productivity and reliability.
Redesign is about technologies that reinvent a product or service, which then create a new business model. This can mean giving people access to a product that may be part of the problem. Rather than buying a new car, for instance, people access multi-user vehicles, presenting a unique opportunity to reduce resources and contribute to sustainability.
Redesign enables us to adapt our economic system to a more sustainable future. One way is by allowing it to serve as a platform for ecosystem restoration. For many years, companies have invested in restoration projects for forests and other important ecosystems in order to reduce and offset their emissions. However, it’s difficult to see the impact of carbon emissions on an ecosystem as well as how beneficial these projects are. Redesign creates an opportunity to monitor and digest information about these projects through innovative technologies.
There are many technological advances that we can use to analyze our impact on the world. Scientists do so by measuring tree heights from space and then use this information to calculate how effective their project was in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Additionally, emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence could accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. “Technologies like the Internet of Things can help us to understand the needs of our biodiversity and the natural capital.” –Nacho Rivera When looking for climate solutions, we need to take a systemic approach. By combining the technology of business, the private sector, the public sector and startups, we can make great advancements in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.