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CSR & Making a Difference Q3 2022

Identifying the link between digitisation and sustainable manufacturing

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David McCormack

Director of Sustainable Manufacturing, Irish Manufacturing Research

With the climate crisis agenda now rightly moving towards the forefront of business decision making, is sustainability the next industrial revolution?

Traditionally, advancements in technology and sustainability would be viewed mutually exclusive. Since the first industrial revolution, advances in technology have allowed us to access more raw materials and produce multiple new consumer products for an ever-growing world population. All of which lead to significant resource depletion and a rise in CO2 emissions.

Connecting innovation and sustainability

Until now, the business drivers that propel digital innovation and sustainability have been disconnected. Digitalisation of organisations began in earnest in the early 2000’s under the banner of what we now call the fourth industrial revolution. This was a phrase first introduced by Klaus Schwab (Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum) in 2015.

The term represents the fourth major industrial era since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that are increasingly blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

The European Commission have recently moved to the concept of Industry 5.0 when it comes to their research program. Industry 5.0 complements the existing Industry 4.0 paradigm by highlighting research and innovation as drivers for a transition to a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry. It moves focus from shareholder to stakeholder value, with benefits for all concerned thus mutually reinforcing the link between digitisation and sustainability.

Traditionally, advancements in technology and sustainability would be viewed mutually exclusive.

Unlocking the data

Digitisation and sustainability are set to be two of the mega trends at both a national level Ireland’s Digital Strategy and Climate Action plan and a European level to build resiliency to protect against further pandemics similar to COVID-19. It will also put the planet in a better place for those coming after us. So how do both digitisation and sustainability complement each other?

Peter Drucker, arguably the world’s greatest management consultant, said it best “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” The advent of digital technologies such as industrial internet of things (IIoT) allows integrated connectivity into data sources from equipment and devices, transferring this data through intelligent network and using data analytics to extract meaningful and actionable insights from the data.

The insights gleamed by accessing data sources that were previously deemed challenging can be used to drive sustainable focused technology development. This encompasses the total system leading to significantly improved environmental performance, less pollution and products designed for end-of-life recovery.

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