Technology   //   October 11, 2022

Why aren’t more companies using tech to be sustainable?

When it comes to using technology to become more sustainable (and save money in the long term), businesses haven’t even scratched the surface.

In a recent interview, Ross Sheil, senior vp at the U.K.-based building intelligence firm Infogrid, noted that while technology aimed at improving efficiency and sustainability is abundant, too many operators of commercial real estate have failed to implement them. 

“There is generally a lack of adoption around water metering and smart building technology that can be used to calculate water usage in a facility,” said Sheil. This, as more than half of the U.S. was hit by drought this past summer, and as companies like New York’s Empire State Realty Trust, which operates the iconic Empire State Building, saved $100,000 per year and reduced carbon emissions by more than 300 metric tons after installing WINT’s AI-based technology.

If it’s good for the planet, keeps businesses aligned with their ESG commitments and saves money to boot, why aren’t more companies embracing technology and other tools to conserve water, energy and other resources?

In a recent report, Gartner proposed that sustainable tech isn’t a single objective; rather, it is a “framework of digital solutions that drives ESG outcomes.” Projecting that by 2025, 50% of CIOs will have performance metrics tied to sustainable tech, Gartner went on to warn that “focusing only on the sustainability of internal IT operations is too narrow a way to think about sustainable technology.” 

Gartner principal analyst Autumn Stanish advised enabling a whole host of sustainable outcomes using technology — ultimately driving outcomes like “improving wellness and providing the traceability needed to ensure responsible business practices.”

There is much more that businesses can do, said Pete Zimmerman, North American software manager at Long Island, New York-based ERP solutions firm VAI — especially retail businesses and their supply chains, where sustainability has become a central goal.

One way retailers are creating more sustainable operations is with the aid of ERP technology that enables businesses to operate more efficiently with real-time information and deeper insights into their operations, he pointed out. 

“When lighting and HVAC systems are connected to an intelligent building management system, businesses have greater insight into building occupancy and operations, resulting in additional layers of energy savings.”
Dan Hollenkamp, COO at the smart building management firm Toggled in Troy, Michigan. 

Across the manufacturing sector in particular, predictive technology is allowing business leaders to analyze past datasets to identify “trends in supply and demand, foresee weather patterns, and adjust inventory levels to improve business efficiency and meet sustainability goals,” Zimmerman said. “With operational insights, retail touchpoints are able to gain increased visibility into coordinating more accurate shipping routes, eliminating delays and stalling of products.”

Technology is also helping enterprises along the supply chain to build sustainability KPIs into their IT systems to calculate and record the exact environmental impact of doing business, such as greenhouse gas emissions per unit of revenue, he added. 

“Documenting these types of KPIs not only helps identify areas of improvement in terms of sustainability but is also helping retailers to sell their products to sustainability-conscious consumers,” Zimmerman said, adding, “Ultimately, creating more sustainable supply chain operations not only reduces the retail industry’s carbon footprint, but it also positions these businesses for long-term success.”

The pandemic has led more companies to turn to tech to become more sustainable. 

Prior to March 2020, most commercial buildings operated on a rather predictable schedule, controlling lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems either manually or by way of timers. But with the adoption of hybrid work, businesses had to rethink how they manage their facilities with an eye on efficiency and managing the bottom line, observed Dan Hollenkamp, COO at the smart building management firm Toggled in Troy, Michigan. 

“Advancements such as smart lighting and motion sensors can be installed to ensure lights are only turned on when rooms are being used, and when lighting and HVAC systems are connected to an intelligent building management system, businesses have greater insight into building occupancy and operations, resulting in additional layers of energy savings,” said Hollenkamp. By allowing a building to react automatically to changes in the environment, smart building controls can boost energy efficiency by up to 80%, he noted, resulting in sizable cost savings for a company as well as a reduced carbon footprint.

Hollenkamp proposed that sustainable tech could even support the return to the office. “By enabling office buildings to work smarter for their owners and tenants, smart building systems allow for more customized environments from the convenience of a mobile device,” he said. Empowering employees with personalized lighting and temperature controls can make the office work experience just as appealing as the home office, he suggested.

Noting that heating and cooling in commercial properties accounts for an sizable percentage of total energy usage, much of it from non-renewable sources, Tony Abate, vp and CTO at Fairfield, Connecticut-based AtmosAir Solutions, noted that often the benefits of sustainability “are hard to grasp because they are invisible — it’s the air.”

Once again, the pandemic could be changing that. Abate noted that with all the attention that’s been put on indoor air quality since the emergence of Covid, more businesses have adopted bi-polar ionization (BPI) technology, which neutralizes contaminants like bacteria, viruses and mold, in addition to reducing a business’s carbon footprint and saving on energy costs. Companies such as Apple, Ford and Wells Fargo have turned to BPI technology, according to Abate. 

While there are still many business leaders who have not made sustainability and sustainable tech a priority, many more “have seen the light,” Abate noted, as they have come to understand that “becoming sustainable improves health and wellness in an office building, thus improving employee productivity and reducing absenteeism — and, by the way, reducing operating costs.”