• Disruptive innovations are needed to deliver the UN Sustainability Goals by 2030.
  • Virtual twin technology could enable the radical action needed by stakeholders.
  • Pioneering study highlights potential for this technology to help address climate crisis.

It’s widely accepted today that in order to prevent irreversible damage from climate change, we must take urgent action. The level of environmental degradation from current production and consumption models are reaching the point of no return. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have given companies and governments a clear set of objectives to strive for by 2030, which means we only have a decade to deliver on these commitments.

But prior, incremental approaches are not enough to achieve a carbon-free, 'circular' economy within this “decade to deliver.” The world needs more radically disruptive innovations.

While companies, institutions and governments are increasingly setting goals to accomplish sustainability, actual plans are harder to come by. This is in large part because, for all their good intentions, most organizations don’t yet know what steps to take to concretely meet these objectives. Can 'virtual twin' technology be the lever to operationalize sustainability and the circular economy at speed and scale?


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build lasting ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Scale360° Playbook Journey
Image: Scale360° Playbook

Its unique hub-based approach - launched this September - is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators from around the world can connect and work together ideas and solutions through the UpLink, the Forum's open innovation platform.

Discover how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies an ambition for a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 automakers, suppliers, research institutions, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this near-term ambition.

CCI has recently released a new series of circularity “roadmaps”, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specifics of this new circular transition.

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3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerate sustainability and circularity across manufacturing and production sectors.

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What are virtual twins?

Virtual twins are real-time, virtual representations of a product, platform or even an ecosystem as complex as a city. They are used to invent, model, and test disruptive innovations, below are some of the benefits:

Virtual twins provide safe testing environments for radically disruptive green and circular innovation. By modeling entire value chains, virtual twins can improve the sustainability of products and services across the lifecycle, cradle to cradle: from designing for reuse to minimizing material use during manufacturing to estimating carbon emissions to modeling reverse logistics for circular economy systems.

This is not some promised future technology: virtual twins are already in action today, with an estimated market of US$5.4 billion and a proven track record of helping companies and industries around the world improve the way they grow and operate. The market is set to grow at an astounding rate; it is projected to have a compound annual growth rate of 36% over the next five years. But the current adoption rate of virtual twins is just 10% globally, meaning there is enormous untapped potential to apply virtual twin technology more widely to address global sustainability challenges and accelerate the achievement of the UN SDGs.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

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How can this technology help reduce emissions?

Accenture and Dassault Systèmes have collaborated on a new paper, Designing Disruption: The Critical Role of Virtual Twins in Accelerating Sustainability, to advance the understanding of how virtual twins could help meet the world’s sustainability goals. This paper explores use cases from five industries: construction, consumer packaged goods, transportation, life sciences, and electrical and electronics. These five virtual twin use cases alone can unlock more than 7.5Gt of CO2e emissions reductions through 2030 and US$1.3 trillion of economic value.

This groundbreaking study is about changing the value chains that deliver the goods and services the world requires. Incremental, continuous improvement in productivity, resource use, emissions and waste reduction are critically needed. But such efforts alone won’t address the climate crisis or achieve the UN SDGs. That requires a fundamental transformation of underlying systems and processes, and virtual twin technologies deployed at scale across industries hold the answer.

Download this paper to discover more about how virtual twin technologies can deliver significant sustainable innovation at scale in order to achieve the UN SDGs and redesign the global economy to be more circular and low carbon.