Picture: 123RF/RA2 STUDIO
Picture: 123RF/RA2 STUDIO

Dubbed the “decade of action” by the UN, the 2020s looks to be a period of accelerating sustainable solutions to overcome some of the world’s biggest socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

With the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) bringing new technologies to the fore, all sectors of society are able to contribute to the achievement of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) set for 2030.

The business sector has the ability to align strategies and respond to societal needs and environmental protection goals to edge closer towards a better future for all. Digital technology is key in creating sustainable business models by enabling transformation in operations and access to markets for those previously excluded from essential products and services.

With their digital capabilities and offerings, the ICT industry can make a significant impact on people and the planet. Some of the emerging trends that will help improve the lives of the next 100-million customers and halve our environmental impact by 2025 include:

  • Climate change mitigation. Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions poses serious risks. Investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy projects and advancing less carbon-intensive technologies supports a transition to a low-carbon future and mitigates the impact of climate change. Many companies have made bold commitments on carbon reduction and this trend will continue throughout 2021. This includes implementing smart, energy-efficient networks and solutions, such as developing smart Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities.
  • The circular economy. The circular economy keeps resources in use for as long as possible, while extracting their maximum value. This contributes to sustainability by reducing climate change risks, biodiversity loss, resource scarcity, waste, and pollution, therefore preventing further environmental degradation and social inequality. Companies are moving away from linear operation and consumption models and evolving towards a more circular way of thinking. Resource reduction strategies include redesigning products to require less material and energy, device take-back schemes, and recovering and repurposing network equipment. Consumer participation can also help close the gap in the loop. Today and beyond 2021, an electronic waste (e-waste) reduction and reuse approach is critical.
  • Conscious consumerism. As concerns about the environment increase worldwide, consumers are choosing brands whose values align with their own in saving the planet. In a Globescan study 54% of people across 25 countries say that living in a way that is good for themselves, others, and the environment is a priority for them. If companies want to broaden their reach and enter new markets, sustainable business practices remain a competitive differentiator. Providing life-enhancing products and services, as well as having purpose-led initiatives that work towards SDGs will continue to meet consumers’ expectations of businesses taking responsibility for people and the planet. This includes adherence to international standards and guidelines related to electromagnetic fields exposures.
  • Investing in human capital. A new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Future of Jobs has highlighted the need to build on self-management and critical thinking skills. In this way, we can harness an increase in digital transformation and an impending Covod-19 triggered recession to usher in a new wave of jobs that take advantage of digital transformation, innovation and adaptability. The key to effectively transition to the digital future of work is not by acquiring technological skills, or trying to retain those jobs that will inevitably become automated, but to build on those critical and emotional skills that cultivate a balanced and productive hybrid workforce. The future of work post Covid-19 will be characterised by flexibility, working from home, e-learning and virtual meetings among others. The health and safety of employees is a priority for all companies facing the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Health and safety best practices include the provision of protective gear for all staff, funds for employees negatively affected by the virus, mental health support and time to attend to home responsibilities. Investing in employees’ wellbeing and responding to their needs will yield positive results. Companies are also focusing on leveraging the potential of human capital, which is people’s knowledge, talents, and skills, for sustainable development. Equal opportunities in education, training and the workforce can drive a prosperous, inclusive economy.
  • ESG investment. In the past year, companies with strong environmental, social & governance (ESG) credentials have shown to outperform others and rank 31% higher on corporate governance, according to the UN Global Compact. The importance of ESGs will continue to gain momentum in 2021, particularly as companies focus more on their societal contributions in the wake of Covid-19. This will further encourage ESG reporting that is transparent and accurate to enable investors to make more informed investment decisions.
  • New technological innovations driven by 5G technology. The global pandemic has shown how rapid advancements in ICT can offer solutions to societal problems. SDG 9 is about “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure” and network coverage is a driver of this. Mobile operators have invested heavily in deploying mobile broadband networks to connect the unconnected, highlighting their role in providing critical infrastructure that spurs inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, in addition to greater innovation. With 5G technology now in SA, there is no doubt that the scaling of new technologies and their potential to contribute to socioeconomic upliftment is expected to continue. 5G was designed to meet the growing data and connectivity requirements of modern society and will set the foundation for developing various new technologies and facilitating new innovations in multiple industries, for the greater good of society.

Netshitenzhe is chief officer for external affairs at Vodacom SA.

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