Earth Day SDL

EARTH DAY—50 Years On. Why Now is the Time to Go Digital

When Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, little did anyone know that it would—fifty years later—galvanize one billion people from 193 counties around the single largest environmental movement. It’s been a force for positive change. In its long history it’s pushed governments and industries to re-think mindsets, and work towards a more sustainable future for everyone.
But being the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and with everything that is going on in the world right now, this year feels more poignant. Over the past year alone we have witnessed Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, heat waves across India, and wildfires across Australia, all of which have taken many lives, displaced millions and destroyed natural habitats for billions of animals. And just when we start to understand the full impact and knock-on effects of these natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold of almost every nation in the world. It feels like this year’s Earth Day rightly deserves more recognition than most.

Perhaps a silver lining from the COVID-19 virus is that we’ve had a rare glimpse into what a low-carbon future might look like. Estimates by the European Space Agency suggest that during late January and early February 2020, levels of nitrogen dioxide over cities and industrial areas in Asia and Europe were 40% lower than the same time last year. Millions of workers are now working from home, travelling less by car and plane, and it’s having a huge—and highly visible—impact on our environment. Many rivers and waterways are now cleaner. Skylines are visible again (even the Himalayas are now visible from 250 kilometers away—the first time in 30 years). It’s a powerful reminder of what impact our lives have had on the world around us. But as nations bounce back after the pandemic ends, will we return to the status quo? Hopefully not.

Digital should be the new norm

In case you missed it, this year’s Earth Day has gone digital. What better time than now to rethink the way we all work, engage with each other, and conduct our daily lives. After all, we’ve already proven that we can. While working from home, and limiting travel, will have a positive impact on global carbon emissions—the reality is it won’t be enough if businesses don’t digitally transform their organizations. 

The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, outlined at the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018, suggested that digital technologies alone could help reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15%—or one-third of the 50% reduction required by 2030. That’s a huge slice off our carbon reduction targets. 

The good news is that the technology is already here to drive digital strategies. Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other collaboration tools have already played a huge role in workers collaborating remotely. No doubt it will have an even bigger role over the next decade as we transform towards a digital society. And 5G technology—which is currently being rolled out globally—is already perceived as the linchpin for digital transformation strategies. When questioned about which technologies support their digital transformation strategies over the next five years, three-quarters of industry executives mentioned 5G as a key enabler, revealed the study. It’s also about digitizing your content, and adopting a digital-first strategy—from the way it’s created, managed, translated and then delivered to internal and external global audiences.

Digital transformation doesn’t just make environmental sense. A report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) also suggests that digital transformation could unlock an estimated $100 trillion of value over the next decade. However, the WEF cautions that for digital transformation to work it will require a collaborative economic framework between business leaders, regulators and policy makers.

If digital transformation makes environmental and economic sense, why aren’t all companies embracing it? Digital Transformation is certainly a buzzword of the past few years. Sadly, many companies have been paying lip service—transforming only parts of their business, instead of taking a complete holistic view. Ultimately digital transformation is not a plug-and-play software program. It’s about how industries and governments organize people, processes and technology to improve the way we all operate. Now consider this final point from the WEF, digital transformation offers the opportunity to improve employment opportunities, increase sustainability, and foster greater trust with customers. With benefits like these on offer, why wouldn’t any business move towards a more digital future?