UN interview: Sustainable thinking
“Close your eyes, pay attention to how the ground feels beneath your feet and take a deep breath. Relax and consider why you’re here – perhaps for the same reason as anyone else looking into sustainability – to make the world a somewhat better place.”
These were meditative words that United Nations Environmental Programme digital co-lead Shivam Kishore used to open his recent Web Summit keynote on “How digitisation can power sustainability”
Kishore – who also, it turns out, is a qualified yoga teacher – set the tone of his talk with this mindful sentiment to stay grounded. Which is also the theme of his first and most important tip for businesses looking to become more sustainable.
Speaking in an interview with TechInformed, Kishore said, “For the first-timers, it’s not about technology.”
A company must first make keeping mindful of the earth and climate change one of its core pillars. It “has to be a sustainability-driven organisation.” At UNEP, “every decision we make is made on the premise of understanding the consequence of an environmental hazard.”
With a background in management consulting and digital transformation, Shivam Kishore came to become a lead advisor on advancing digital transformation at UNEP after realising that he could use his same past skillset working on digital transformation and profits, as he could digital transformation and sustainability.
UNEP, established in 1972, serves as an advocate for the environment through setting agendas and promoting sustainable development. As a programme, it works with 193 member states, alongside key figures and companies, to address challenges and promote awareness campaigns such as World Environment Day.
Part of Kishore’s remit as a digital transformation lead involves creating visual dashboards representing key information from climate data showing the state of the climate and each country’s progress towards its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Kishore describes the people working within UNEP as “the environmental stewards of the world” policing the three critical systems on which the world depends: nature, pollution control and climate.
So, what does that mean, and how can businesses align with the UNEP’s sustainability goals?
According to Kishore, countries and corporations both need to discover first what carbon emissions they are emitting before jumping towards ways to become net zero.
“First, identify the influence, identify the scope and build it into your organisation mandate,” advises Kishore.
In the same vein of keeping grounded, “it has to be a part of your mandate,” Kishore reinforces. “My organisational mandate is to reduce my emissions as much as it is to increase my bottom line.”
“Once we understand that, then we need to start thinking about how to deploy the right kinds of technologies to mitigate the problems that we have.”
Following that, “it all starts with problem identification.”
According to UNEP, early analyses suggest digital transformation technologies could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 20%, the use of natural resource products by 90% and detoxifying supply chains by a factor of 10 to 100 times more.
Currently, UNEP uses digital transformation technologies in the context of “enabling countries to get better aware of where they are in terms of their climate goals.”
To gain this, one way UNEP is helping countries see where their problems lie is through the use of air sensor technology.
In a partnership with air sensor company IQAir, UNEP has been able to deploy almost 28,000 sensors across the globe which “allows us to get access to real-time pollution metrics, anywhere.”
This allows countries to make policy decisions for the better, it also allows organisations to see how their businesses may be polluting the air and how that pollution could also be impacting them.
UNEP is likewise leveraging artificial intelligence in its ‘World Environment Situation Room’ which launched this year
Supported by a collection of partners, the programme curates, aggregates and visualises available earth and sensor data to inform real-time analysis and future prediction on multiple factors such as CO2 atmospheric concentration, sea level rise, and changes in glacier mass.
Over time, UNEP hopes for the WESR to become a mission control centre for earth, where all environmental indicators can be seamlessly monitored to drive actions.
“Technology is like a tool, and if we learn how to use it, it can do wonders,” says Kishore.
Scope one, two and three emissions are the carbon emissions which corporates and countries emit categorised. In a nutshell, scope one and two are internal emissions that are produced by the company itself while scope three are external emissions that are usually within the value chain.
“Supply chain transparency for me is a big thing because we are a consumer-driven society,” says Kishore.
“From an emissions standpoint, we don’t know what happens in the supply chain,” says Kishore.
He said that he envisions companies using blockchain tracking technology as one means of this information becoming better understood.
This might include digital ledger technologies that are able to increase traceability and transparency in the supply chain – a recent example of this (unrelated to UNEP) was a proof of concept between fast moving consumer goods giant Unilever and software management firm SAP.
The project involved deploying blockchain technology GreenToken to trace the origins of its palm oil fruit, to ensure that they were sourced from sustainable origins.
Kishore’s stance on where organisations should start with their sustainability goal, however, is simple and weaved through our talk: make it a company goal.
“Conversations are getting more open than ever before,” and “that signals a shift and indicates we are heading in the right direction,” says Kishore.
However, there is still much to be done and an incentive from Kishore for more firms to think about their carbon emissions is to think about the economic impact.
“We live in a world that is driven by economy and so for most entities economic incentives are important,” recognises Kishore.
While many companies might be weighing up the financial benefits of introducing green technologies, “at the moment, climate risk is an economical risk,” enforces Kishore.
“If organisations don’t start taking environmental risk into their operations, the economic impact is massive.”
And on a more human note, “I feel like it’s more than economic impact, it is also a very real social impact because these are real lives we’re talking about at stake.”
Plus, it’s a collective effort: “we have to play our part, no matter how big or small there’s a responsibility.”
“It’s looking at our own spheres of influence, whether that’s an organisation or in your own families or education,” says Kishore.
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