The Role of Technology in Addressing the Climate Crisis

The climate crisis has reached urgent levels and current sustainable production and consumption models are largely responsible. Technology companies have a responsibility to make innovations that enable and support sustainable consumption.

Last year’s announcement by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a red flag to us all. We now have only 11 years left to respond to the climate crisis and the current trend lines are unmistakable: global carbon emissions hit a record high in 2018 whilst, at the same time, we destroyed the equivalent of 30 football fields of forest every minute of every day. Add to the mix a worldwide population increase of nearly 100 million people a year, we need to start thinking more creatively about tackling climate change. But no one can address the crisis in isolation: all actors from individuals to businesses and governments will need to come together towards this common goal — Arçelik included. Whilst climate strikes unite our youth and climate summits convene leaders, the call to action is clear: keeping within 1.5°C of warming is essential.

At Arçelik we are well aware of the unique role that we have to play in the transition to a sustainable economy that works within planetary boundaries. Like any business, we have a responsibility to all of our stakeholders to manage our direct and indirect impacts. Though we have a long way to go, we have begun to find ways to manage these impacts. For example, we are committed to achieving carbon neutrality in our Turkey operations by 2025 and have launched several initiatives such as solar panels and solar walls that generate energy for our manufacturing facilities. We are also saving 500 MWh electricity and 220 tonnes of CO2e annually by switching conventional lighting with LED lighting.

Yet, as a household technologies company, we see an even bigger opportunity beyond our own operations — to make sustainable consumption easier every day. Technology has come to play a central role in nearly every facet of our lives over the last 50 years. From the phones we carry everywhere to the household appliances that save countless hours for families worldwide, technology has become truly ubiquitous with no sign of slowing down. However, comparatively little thought has been given to how we can leverage these everyday technologies to drive more sustainable consumption choices. If, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler argues in Nudge, we need help making more rational decisions for ourselves and the planet, technology seems perfectly placed to allow us to do so.

Take something as simple as a washing machine. We can calculate that the annual electricity required to power them exceeds 83 billion kilowatts each year. If we found simple and innovative ways to help consumers wash at 30°C rather than 40°C, with a better cleaning performance, electricity consumption could be reduced by an average of 40%. By moving to even more sustainable technologies, we strive to develop the world’s most resource-efficient products with smart algorithms to help reduce the average household’s carbon footprint. Our washing machine models are 10% — 70% more energy efficient than the standard energy labels set by regulations in different countries.

Another area with great potential to help drive more sustainable choices is artificial intelligence (AI). If more and more technologies can integrate environmentally conscious AI into their everyday usage, the possibilities for emission reductions are endless. Take a household refrigerator as an example. What if a relatively simple artificial intelligence mechanism was integrated into every fridge, so that it could use sensors to detect and inform people when items were about to go off? With a global food waste crisis that contributes nearly 4.4 billion tons of greenhouse gas (about 10% of total) emissions annually, the potential impact of these smarter technologies could be enormous.

In an increasingly digital economy, technology companies can fundamentally redefine the digital infrastructure that frames how we produce and consume. But this will require an approach that goes beyond any one company’s capabilities. Open innovation will be one of the key tools that we will need to leverage going into the future. By rethinking the role of technology in solving the climate crisis, workable solutions will be the result of unexpected collaborations across different actors in society. It is the responsibility of technology companies to be a platform for these collaborations to occur, and an engine to spur them on.

The opportunity is exciting and potentially game-changing, but the onus is now on us to successfully integrate climate action into our business model. New industry collaborations such as the 2030Vision — a global partnership platform with the aim to transform the use of technology to help achieve the SDGs — are much needed to help align global efforts. But it’s essential that companies begin to understand their own contribution to a 1.5°C future. The ambitious commitments made at Climate Week NYC 2019 now need to translate into actions. Yet such commitments must go beyond operational footprints to include the impact that their products can also make on the world.

I have attended Climate Week NYC where I learnt that we are significantly under-estimating the benefits of cleaner growth. In fact, smart climate action could deliver as much as US $2.6trillion in economic benefits. It is also encouraging that the world’s biggest investors and funds are now more determined than ever to invest in companies that are decarbonizing their businesses.

In contrast, the businesses that resist change will inevitably lose out in the long term. The reason is simple: the millions of young people who joined the recent global climate strikes will shape the strategic plans of businesses in the near future; they are the future customers who will take environmental issues into account when making purchasing decisions.

Like the young climate activist Greta Thunberg said: “Change is coming, whether you like it or not!

The question is whether technology will become a powerful catalyst for change and help to make climate action easier for all global stakeholders.

Technology companies: have your say now!

CEO, Arçelik