Nov 22, 2021

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Innovation in Sustainability

Time is running out to take action on climate change. To achieve our global Sustainable Development Goals, rapid innovation is more important than ever. The good news though, is that we are seeing significant advances in innovation and technology, which are being utilised in exciting, sustainable, and profitable ways.

Investigate the importance of technological progress with Benjamin Combes, Guest Lecturer on the Business and Climate Change: Towards Net Zero Emissions online short course from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).



We’ve only got a decade to really act on climate. The decade of action on not just climate, but also the Sustainable Development Goals, to really hit those goals by 2030. So, we’re going to need rapid innovation, breakthrough innovation to do things in new ways. We’re also, in parallel, going to need dematerialisation. We need to use the resources a lot better, because we’re currently using, last time I saw, something like three or four planets worth of resources.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are now entering in the last few years, needs to be a revolution that is digital, dematerialised, and really changes the way we think about growth to make it sure that it’s better growth, better climate, so that we can make sure that people can survive and prosper in a world that also meets everyone’s needs, not just the needs of the few.

One of the big advances we’ve seen in innovation and technology is with autonomous vehicles. Now, if you’d have asked scientists and innovators in 2010 when they thought autonomous vehicles would be likely, they may have answered 2030, 2040, or beyond. But what happened is, we saw the individual technology advances that we saw with sensors, GPS, things like Google Earth, and all of those technologies – advanced cameras – came together to be used together in what’s known as combinatorial advances. So you combine technologies to make a step change in what you’re able to do, and obviously AI is a key aspect of that because it can help the system learn.

So, for example, on a Tesla car, if there’s a pothole or a roadblock, that car can send that message to the network of cars to say: “Watch out, there’s something here; go a different route.” That could never have been done before. And even one driver knowing it isn’t that useful, it’s very useful for a million drivers if everyone is on a system, to be able to say: “Let’s avoid this route, let’s avoid that blockage in the road.”

So, what we’re seeing is, scientists are working on individual innovations and technology capabilities, and they’re now combining those, and that’s why we talk about artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things being the gearbox of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Filed under: Sustainability