There are many ways to achieve sustainable development, such as creating policies or substituting existing products with more sustainable alternatives. Another avenue is digital innovations, which have come to shape every aspect of our lives. During the lockdown I had a lot of time to think about this and decided to share some of the inspiring stories of digital innovations for sustainable development in my new blog, Green Mirror.
The first type of these innovations are mobile apps, such as those helping users in measuring their CO2 footprint or finding drinking water fountains.
Cleanfox is an app that does not exactly measure your footprint, but directly reduces it where they know it’s necessary: by identifying newsletters you never read and deleting them, you save 10g CO2 per newsletter!
Still on the App store, Refill, Closca Water, Tap or Mymizu are great examples of innovations useful for individuals, but also actively involving ordinary citizens, for instance by enabling them to add public water fountains to the ones already listed in the app.
Apps are in my opinion the best example that you don’t necessarily need to be an entrepreneur with a sustainable business idea or a scientist finding groundbreaking solutions to make a positive impact. The sheer convenience of smartphones is making our lives so much easier in many ways, but it is also taking away excuses for us to keep the status quo.
Another type of sustainable digital innovations are those connected to data collection. Nowadays, business decisions that are not backed by at least some data points are regarded as unfounded, especially since there are so many ways to gather data (just think of the fact that thanks to the internet, we students really run out of excuses to be unprepared for anything). Thus, it comes as no surprise that making better (i.e., more sustainable and environmentally mindful) decisions, also requires more accurate data.
Examples are sensors in buildings, natural reserves or household appliances, that gather immense amounts of data. Through shared platforms this can be made available to all stakeholders, and plays a crucial role in making more sustainable decisions. For instance, sensors measuring almost exact yields across a crop field are helping farmers to optimize the use of fertilizer, which not only reduces their costs, but especially releases only the strictly needed amount into the ecosystem. Data collection also plays a crucial role in nature conservation, as some parks and natural reserves have created online platforms such as Wildtrack with their FIT (footprint identification technique) to encourage visitors to upload photos of wildlife or their tracks, to help conservationists keep on top of the wildlife populations.
Coming back to data-based business decisions, innovations such as digitally connected sensors and shared platforms pave the way to make impact investing more appealing to a wider, and thus more transformative, range of investors. Impact investing is “the support of social and environmental projects with a financial return", and is a type of investments which seeks to not only make money, but also be a part of meaningful social impact projects. Having information such as the Morningstar Globes, which basically encompasses all data into a single sustainability measurement of an investment, available to every investor with access to the internet is truly transformative, because it gives everyone at least a chance to consider a more impactful way to invest their money.
There are of course other types of digital innovations that play a role in sustainable development, but mobile apps and data gathering innovations already do make a very significant impact. So, if you feel like this is the kind of story you want to hear more about, check out Green Mirror!