Does this decade hold the keys to a circular economy?
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Does this decade hold the keys to a circular economy?

Does this decade hold the keys to a circular economy?

It’s clear that sustainability is so much more than manufacturing eco-friendly products

We live in a rapidly changing world where the consequences of population growth, climate change, depletion of natural resources and pollution are of serious concern. In fact, since the beginning of the pandemic we’ve gained a better understanding of the world’s largest issues and how to progress towards resilience. We saw technology empowering businesses, with its ability to bring about profound transformation.

Today, as the world emerges from the pandemic, global demand is only going to grow, and industries and governments must collaborate to generate supply in a sustainable way. To do this, businesses across both the public and private sectors must integrate sustainability into product development and business operations.

Not a war: Being sustainable and profitable
The interesting thing is, that sustainability and profitability are not at war with each other. Making eco-friendly changes in business can improve the bottom line significantly while having a bigger impact on the community around us. This transition is inevitable and is already gaining significant ground in the Gulf region as governments roll-out policies and services that are sustainability aligned.

For example, earlier this year, the UAE government introduced the UAE Circular Economy Policy which determines the country’s approach to achieving sustainable governance through infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing, and food production and consumption. Elsewhere, Kuwait’s sustainability strategy aims to produce clean fuel, construct new, low-emitting refineries to replace aging ones, improve energy efficiency from municipal solid waste, generate more energy from renewable sources and build railway projects that link ports of Kuwait.

Similarly, Qatar is at the forefront of the sustainability agenda as the country aims to incorporate and promote sustainability involving multiple stakeholders. From green transport solutions to solid waste management, energy and emissions related policies, travel and transportation and water management, the government is focused on promoting sustainable business practices and governance.

It’s clear that sustainability is so much more than manufacturing eco-friendly products. It is about cultivating a sustainability mindset, leveraging innovation and emerging technologies to solve some of the greatest challenges facing humanity. Hence, we need to address all the five pillars of sustainability: Social, economic, environmental, cultural, and technological.

This requires a rounded strategy based on responsible business practices involving all stakeholders at multiple levels.

The data decade has the answers
In 2015, world leaders adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—17 goals that address common global challenges – as a guide to achieving a sustainable and peaceful future for people and the planet by 2030. With less than a decade left to make progress towards these goals, now is the time for action. The 2020s, also known as The Data Decade, will be the era of transformation where new technologies will contribute to a lasting impact on society’s ability to meet the 2030 goals.

IT organisations have an especially central role in this, as smarter, sustainable progress requires digital solutions at its core. A report from the World Economic Forum and PwC show that new technologies have the potential to drive progress on 70 per cent of the 169 sub-goals within the SDGs.

To meet global targets and halve emissions by 2030, we need to maximise technologies at different levels of development. Cloud computing, first-generation industrial automation, and 3G and 4G mobile networks, among others, already serve as a foundation for big efficiency gains.

Next come 5G, AI, data innovation, and drones, which all depend on connectivity and open up completely new opportunities. With the right policy frameworks and a strong vision, these technologies will be instrumental to moving society towards a circular and lean economy, focused on growing service value while reducing waste and pollution.

The time to act is now
We have everything we need to transition to a circular economy — but time is of the essence. While large-scale change is necessary, there are a number of ways to start taking action today:

  • Identify opportunities to create immediate change in your supply chain, manufacturing processes or product design — what unsustainable materials are you using most, and what are the viable alternatives?
  • Assess which alternatives provide the most value both in terms of business costs and the broader environmental impact. There are many options, but you can’t compromise on the quality or durability of your product.
  • Look at companies with a similar product or use case and borrow key learnings from them. You can even embrace a collaboration mindset, locking arms with your former competitors – your entire sector might just follow your lead.
  • Consider new business models that help your customers manage the use of your products in a more sustainable way. Can you offer it as a service? Can you build responsible take-back options?
  • Always be cautious of unintended consequences, as alternatives can come with tradeoffs that have negative, unforeseen effects elsewhere in the ecosphere.

The possibilities for technology to empower sustainability and circularity are already here, and the past year has shown that when we come together for a common cause, we can overcome pressing societal challenges. But if we’re going to achieve a circular economy globally, we need to take action now — and we need to take action together.

Havier Haddad is general manager – Gulf at Dell Technologies

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