Digitalisation can solve water and climate crisis

opinion April 23, 2018 01:00

By The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network

2,519 Viewed

Industry leaders and players need to recognise how digitalisation can fundamentally transform and alleviate the issue of sustainability, especially in water.

Ensuring water security – sustainable access to water for enabling livelihoods, human well-being and socio-economic development – has emerged as a key priority on every nation’s agenda over the past decade. Last month’s World Water Day aimed to highlight this increasingly urgent international concern.

Asia’s water supply is currently under threat from climate change. 

According to a 2015 Asian Development Bank report, more than three quarters of countries in Asia face serious water shortages, which pose a real threat to continued growth and prosperity for the region, if not managed proactively.

Experts have acknowledged we are pushing our climate past the breaking point, even passing the “carbon threshold” in 2016 – which scientists have said is the “point of no return” for our CO2 levels. 

In 2015, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo voluntarily declared a greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 29 per cent by 2030. The government has also increased budgets for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts.

One programme aims to mobilise efforts at a consumer level with the establishment of 1,000 eco-mosques by 2020 – helping mosques to source renewable energy, sustainably manage their water and food needs, as well as reduce and recycle waste. However, is this enough?

While citizen action is integral to the fight against climate change, the incremental changes from individual behavioural changes alone won’t be sufficient to tackle this pressing issue. Few driving forces today can help us to accelerate change by leaps and bounds at the massive rate and scale we need – but digitalisation is chief among these. Industry leaders and players need to recognise how digitalisation can fundamentally transform and alleviate the issue of sustainability, especially in water.

One thing is certain: governments, companies and citizens will be relying on data and digitalisation to try to prevent a large-scale water crisis.

A common misconception for businesses is that sustainability does not make business sense. How do we meet the growing demands of consumerism without increasing the use of resources to fuel productivity?

In this digital age, there need not be a trade-off between sustainability and profitable growth. One example is the advent of Industry 4.0 or the “smart factory”, where automation and data exchange help to create productivity gains for the manufacturing sector across the value chain, while saving resources by limiting material wastage and overproduction.

Underpinning water movement and treatment throughout the production process, pumps are responsible for a staggering 10 per cent of global electricity consumption. For pump manufacturers the pursuit of digitalisation has meant incorporating intelligence into its products to make them more intuitive and connected, and thus perform more efficiently.

Digitalisation opens the doors to a more sustainable business model that not only allows companies to produce more with less, but also avoids unnecessary waste of resources such as energy and water. This is part of a fundamental shift in how Indonesia is taking responsibility to prioritise socio-economic development and sustainability of the nation’s natural resources rather than economic growth at all cost.

The sustainable movement applies to the household as well. 

People are encouraged to adopt eco-friendly habits, such as a zero-waste lifestyle, going car-light and conserving electricity and water. 

While these lifestyle changes are commendable, the use of digitalisation at home could lead to much greater reduction in one’s carbon footprint.

Smart home technology is on the rise, such as the likes of smart lighting that can be controlled with timers, light and motion sensors that can decrease energy usage drastically, and energy management systems. According to a recent report by Strategy Analytics, smart home devices will overtake the use of smartphones by 2021.

The concept of a “smart home” opens up a wealth of new opportunities for water sustainability. Lifestyle changes can be hard for some to upkeep as they feel the small inconveniences that come with going “green”. But the growing range of technological home applications means that Indonesians no longer need to compromise comfort or convenience for sustainability. In fact, one study by Singapore’s national water agency PUB found that a person could save up to five litres of water a day using smart shower devices.

In our fight against climate change, digitalisation is our ultimate ally, but it still takes people to adopt these technologies into their ecosystems in order for us to benefit.

Facing growing water scarcity, both businesses and individuals should not be put off by the cost of advanced intelligent technology, as the benefits in the long run will exceed the upfront investment. On the government front, continually exploring new innovation is also key.

Lastly, it would be strategic for solution providers to keep sustainability in mind when developing new products and services – the need will only be greater in the future.

Together, we can transition to a more sustainable world through the current digital transformation and make every drop count.

The writer is regional managing director for Grundfos in Asia Pacific. The views expressed are his own.