• The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remind us of the need to build a more sustainable world.
  • Technology companies can provide solutions to tackle our planet’s most fundamental challenges.
  • Leveraging data-driven insights, the digital world can solve problems in the real world.

The pandemic has given our environment a much-needed breather – with carbon emissions falling by a record 7% in 2020 – and has painfully revealed the hard work required to slow down detrimental climate change.

To reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions must be reduced by 7.6% annually until 2030, according to the UN.

While regional lockdown measures are clearly not a long-term answer, some behaviours adopted during 2020 demonstrate the potential for sustainable, positive change, such as the increase in remote working.

Happy side effects of enforced remote working

And the same story applies not only to the office environment but also to industrial facilities – and here we see the power of digital transformation at work. Sensors installed in office buildings, for instance, help us quantify how many people work in a given area at one time, ensuring staff keep their distance, and ultimately maximising the use of office space based on data insights.

Throughout 2020, we also witnessed how manufacturing sites with a strong digital backbone were able to continue production and even carry out product acceptance processes virtually. A fortuitous benefit of remote monitoring is that analysing the data collected can boost efficiency, thus making operations more climate friendly.

The effects of COVID-19 therefore offer a chance to foster long-needed change; leveraging digital technologies as a means of engaging in climate action will have a positive and lasting impact. As Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said in July: “COVID-19 is a human tragedy. But it has also created a generational opportunity. An opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world.”

Image: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum

Sustainability through the value chain

Siemens is one company that is convinced that the future is both digital and sustainable. It wants to overcome the greatest challenges of our time through both technology and action.

By empowering individuals and enterprises to partake in the digital transformation of industry, infrastructure and mobility, which form the very backbone of our economies, a lasting positive impact on society can be made.

Society's great challenges include population and economic growth, meeting increasing energy demand whilst decarbonising, building competitive industries with reliable supply chains and efficient infrastructure. These are reflected in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for the world, an urgent and comprehensive call for action.

Siemens is committed to playing its part. By providing technology to make manufacturing more productive, infrastructure more energy efficient, and transportation and healthcare smarter, Siemens is helping customers do more with fewer resources. The ultimate goal is to transform everyday life.

Its efforts in the area of environmental protection range from decarbonisation initiatives to innovative business models around the circular economy, as well as targeted biodiversity measures and resource conservation initiatives.

Sustainability is integrated in everything it does and the initiation of its Charter of Trust is one way it has committed to advancing digitalisation in a responsible, ethical way.

Education, it cannot be forgotten, secures livelihoods and greater equality. Siemens Foundation’s STEM initiatives for students and the lifelong learning opportunities the company offers its employees are designed as a vehicle for the creation of sustainable employability.

Part of the idea is also to promote greater gender equality and assist people from disadvantaged backgrounds in playing a more prominent role in the labour market.

Domain meets digital

As a technology company now focused on industrial processes, infrastructure, mobility and healthcare, Siemens is leveraging its domain knowledge combined with digital technology to create sustainable value for its customers now and in the future.

Take additive manufacturing. This process, by which a physical object is constructed from a digital 3D model, offers manufacturers the freedom to create forms that would have been impossible using conventional methods, while improving flexibility, quality and time-to-market. It also makes supply chains more reliable.

When COVID-19 hit, Siemens connected the designers, engineers and 3D-print service providers in its additive manufacturing network with the global medical community. This enabled 3D-printed parts for machines like ventilators to be produced quickly and eased shortages of healthcare equipment during the crisis.

In a research project to foster the energy transition, Siemens and its partners created a beneficial network pertaining to locally sourced renewable energy in the German village of Wildpoldsried. This pioneering community produces more than seven times its electricity demand via renewable sources like wind turbines and rooftop solar panels.

The villagers are developing grid-edge, technology-based solutions to trade the energy surplus. Data enables predictive grid management – easing grid operators’ workload and enabling a more decentralised, decarbonised energy landscape in which self-sufficient citizens have taken charge.

Image: Siemens

The power of a network can also be seen by a platform from Siemens' Healthineers that provides the technological infrastructure for more than 10 million patient health records. Through data integration and real-time insights, it facilitates shared decision support for the benefit of patients and enables healthcare providers’ digital transformation at the same time.

The Internet of Things – the network of physical objects exchanging data with other devices and systems – helps improve efficiency and quality of life.

Train-fitted sensors, for instance, boost the reliability of public transportation. How? They feed data regarding the condition of railcar components to analysts, who can predict when a part likely needs to be replaced. This can be done during routine maintenance and avoids unexpected breakdowns for operators whilst also boosting the reliability of train schedules for passengers.

Tech: an infinite resource

Our physical resources are finite, yet data-driven technological innovation is just the opposite. As we face conundrums like pandemics, energy transition and infrastructure limitations in the real world, there sits the digital world offering solutions.

The process is perpetual – an infinity loop of connecting both worlds, consistently collecting data input for continuous improvement. By combining the physical and the digital world, as accelerated by COVID-19, we can identify solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges.