Anyone who follows my social media accounts or reads my blogs will know that my love for technology runs deep. I am a firm believer in the power of innovation to improve society in every way, from driving medical advances and improving quality of life to strengthening communities and connecting people remotely.
At the same time, I understand why technology is sometimes seen as the (virtual) elephant in the room, especially when it comes to our collective environmental impact. Despite the many positives that innovation offers, our ever-growing dependence on connectivity and smart devices consumes a great deal of resources, both in terms of energy and raw materials.
These challenges cannot be ignored and, encouragingly, global leaders and tech giants appear to be redoubling their efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of these activities.
Take Microsoft, for example, which has not only set itself the target of becoming carbon negative by 2030, but is also working to remove all the carbon it has emitted historically – both directly or indirectly through electrical consumption – by 2050. Similarly, Apple claims its operations are already carbon neutral, and has committed to ensuring all its products meet the same standard by 2030.
It’s clear that the tech sector is making progress when it comes to its own goods and operations, but what about further afield? We frequently hear how innovation can save our planet from the ravages of climate change, but is this just wishful thinking? Can innovation really help us secure a sustainable tomorrow?
In a bid to answer these questions, I’ve been exploring ways in which technology can help combat environmental challenges. I’m pleased to report the big picture is more positive than one might imagine.
Here is my summary of the ways in which innovation can help save our planet…
As mentioned above, responsible tech companies already have sustainable action plans in place. Offsetting emissions is clearly a sensible starting point but, regardless of the sector, corporations have a broader responsibility to minimise the impact of their businesses on our planet’s delicate ecosystems.
What’s more, stakeholders, customers and communities in general can play a tangible role in driving home this responsibility. All we need to do is vote with our wallets.
Luckily, it’s no longer difficult to find out about the priorities of the companies whose products and services we consume. A quick search for their environmental accreditations – or even their B Corp status – will soon uncover whether they are genuinely committed to sustainability or simply ‘greenwashing’.
Just as corporations have a responsibility to our planet, we too must ensure we are holding them to account.
Technological advances have gone hand in hand with human development at every level, from the appliances we use in our homes to the spacecraft that are exploring our cosmos.
All these advancements – however large or small – have required great minds, great ingenuity and a great deal of trial and error. Fortunately, however, it is the quality of these ideas – not the size of the organisations behind them – that dictates the efficacy of the resultant solutions.
One case I came across recently was an ingenious response to the annual global loss of approximately 15 billion trees to agriculture, mining, logging and urban development. Step forward aerial seeding specialist Dendra Systems, which has created a drone capable of planting one billion tree seeds per year – the perfect example of a small company taking on a huge problem with a simple idea.
This just goes to show that when the world’s greatest intellects apply themselves to a problem, there is never a shortage of ideas. Surely the fact that so many of our greatest minds are currently focused on the challenges of climate change represents significant cause for optimism.
We live in a hyper-connected world thanks to the internet, meaning awareness of important issues often spreads like wildfire. This level of connectivity is also useful in identifying problems as they occur. Take, for example, plans for this satellite system, which will be capable of spotting methane leaks at industrial plants in real time.
The existence of our global network of interconnected people and platforms represents an unprecedented enabler for positive change, giving groups of like-minded people the ability to join together and take action faster than ever before, and facilitating rapid responses to environmental issues as and when they happen.
We all know that traditional fossil fuels are finite, and these resources are also dwindling at an ever-increasing pace. Fortunately, technology has stepped in to accelerate the rise of future-proof sustainable fuels.
Consider offshore wind, which has the potential to generate 11 times more electricity than the world currently needs. Or recent advancements in hydrogen fuel, which many are touting as the key to humanity’s sustainable future.
And that’s not to mention all the fledgling technologies that are still at an incubatory stage. The US-based Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), for example, is dedicated to supporting high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are not yet sufficiently advanced for private-sector investments.
I am therefore more confident than ever that technology – if used well – will prove instrumental in enabling us to win the fight against climate catastrophe and, in doing so, save our planet. So no, hanging our environmental hopes on technology is not just wishful thinking.
Even so, we must always remember that technology is nothing without us – without our ingenuity, our innovation, and the application of our brightest minds in solving the challenges we face.
It is, without doubt, an immensely powerful tool, but, ultimately, the future of planet Earth is in our hands.