MIT Technology Review Insights has released a new report highlighting the significant role that digital technologies play in achieving net-zero emissions.
The report was done in collaboration with Shell and also emphasizes the need for a shift in organizational culture to effectively address the challenges of the net-zero transition.
The findings of the “Digital technology: The backbone of a net-zero emissions future” report shed light on the importance of implementing digital solutions, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, to optimize energy usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the report also highlights the need for organizations to embrace new ways of thinking and working to fully realize the potential of digital technologies in the net-zero transition. It draws on a global survey of around 350 C-level executives and in-depth interviews with experts from different firms such as Accenture’s Global Energy and Materials Lead Stephanie Jamison; Microsoft’s Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie; Shell’s Vice President of Computational Science and Digital Innovation Dan Jeavons and the World Economic Forum.
The transition to clean energy will be underpinned by digitalization. While executives’ responses varied by industry and region, they generally rated digital technology’s impact on achieving decarbonization goals on a scale of 1 to 10.
Executives’ top three expectations were to increase efficiency, reduce energy and waste (6.8 overall), develop and optimize carbon sequestration technologies (6.7), and make sustainability data accessible, verifiable, and transparent (6.2). Other important considerations included monitoring greenhouse gas sinks (6.6) and designing and optimizing low-carbon footprint energy systems (5.8).
To reduce carbon emissions, many industries are turning to a circular economy approach, which focuses on reducing waste, increasing efficiency as well as capturing energy and resources. A majority of participants (54 per cent) from various industries, except petrochemical manufacturing, have identified circular economy as their top sustainability goal.
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Industries are partnering with technology experts to innovate with digital solutions
The most common approach to adopting new technology is through vendor partnerships (31 per cent), although executives may overlook the importance of open standards and data sharing to accelerate digital technology deployment (only 16 per cent).
According to the findings, attitudes toward technology adoption and innovation vary by industry and region. Cybersecurity is the top external obstacle to digital transformation (58 per cent), with construction companies being the most hesitant (78 per cent) and metals and mining companies being less concerned (47 per cent). Few respondents (11 per cent) experiment with digital technologies early on in their lifecycles.
The report found that in order to address the challenges of decarbonization, digital culture is necessary. Successful adoption of digital technologies requires effective systems, personnel and data availability. Leaders should establish digital coalitions, inspire transformation, and emphasize the importance of technology integration.