Production activities are responsible for significant social and environmental impacts – for example, over 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from the cradle-to-factory journey of goods. Simultaneously, at the frontier of production systems lies an astounding amount of innovation across digital, physical and biological spheres. The combinatorial effects of developments like artificial intelligence, blockchain and genome editing can create realities previously unobtainable. Our current production path of delivering on goals for growth in business and national economies, however, is straining natural capital assets far beyond sustainable thresholds, representing a growing systemic risk.
The Accelerating Sustainable Production project serves as a guide for optimising the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in production, helping countries and businesses achieve sustainable growth and contribute toward the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). An initial analysis conducted to scope the project in early 2017 indicated a need for thought leadership and assets that illustrate the fact that sustainable Fourth Industrial Revolution innovation can deliver economic growth that is effectively decoupled from natural resource use, and does not increase the negative impact on the global commons.
In 2017, the project team, working closely with experts and the project community, has published a white paper on the technological opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution to generate triple bottom line value across four manufacturing industries, including qualitative sustainability assessments of technological developments, regional considerations, case studies and an initial quantitative model linked to the UN SDGs and metrics. The work to date has been successful and delivered well-received insight by the project community.
The work in 2018, will focus on creating tailored economic models and quantitative output of the value presented by Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies for specific economies / countries. The priority geographies have been identified as the US, China and India, due to the systemic importance of their economies. The results of the assessments will indicate value to industry, customers, labour, society and the environment and be linked to UN SDG targets and metrics to highlight potential for positive contribution to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Insights and recommendations will be used as input towards the scoping of public-private collaboration efforts aimed at accelerated adoption and diffusion of sustainable innovation across production systems, and policy-making for the transition to a low-carbon global economy.