World Environment Day 2023: The IT sector has the ability to provide game-changing solutions and environmentally conscious practices that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
On World Environment Day, let me start with some sobering facts. In 2022, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) shared that plastic waste is set to almost triple by 2060, half of which will end up in landfills while under a fifth will be recycled. This year in April, UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) also presented incredibly disturbing data to inform us that humanity produces more than 430 million tons of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived or single-use products that end up in the ocean and even infiltrate the human food chain. So yes, the subject of plastic pollution prevention today has greater resonance than ever before.
In fact, on May 29 this year, a United Nations committee met in Paris to develop the first international, legally binding treaty to end global plastic pollution by 2040, including in the marine environment. Whether there will be a unanimous, international consensus about the mandates proposed by the treaty when the negotiations are complete remains to be seen. Industry stakeholders will also have to agree to create plastic circularity, engage in extensive recycling, create low-carbon, sustainable alternatives, or perhaps even eliminate plastics as much as possible from their products.
It would be interesting to see what role the Indian technology sector, with its inventive technological expertise, can play in this global conversation. I believe we have the potential to create trail-blazing solutions and eco-sensitive practices compliant with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a greener, more sustainable future.
As a BFSI industry leader, I feel the urgent need to address the critical social and environmental challenges of our time, align business strategies with the SDGs, promote sustainable supply chains, and reduce carbon footprints.
I also strongly believe that all stakeholders can do their bit to curb carbon-intensive practices, starting with the following strategies:
Rethinking packaging and waste management
Thoughtful packaging and waste disposal practices can drastically reduce our plastic waste footprint. We can also encourage packaging returns or recycling programmes and prioritize the use and creation of biodegradable and recyclable products. Right now, SDGs are not normative across industries, but a comprehensive view of the impact any industry has on the environment is necessary to formulate proactive strategies and inspire change.
Encourage reusability and repairability
Promoting a culture of reusability and repairability is critical to tackling plastic pollution. The Indian IT industry may lead the way by developing devices and components that are durable and afford ease of repair. Allowing users to upgrade or repair equipment that otherwise would have to be discarded not only minimises technological waste but also reduces the presence of plastic components in the environment. Sustainable consumption helps build a circular economy and controls reckless waste generation.
As digital transformation sweeps through every sector, the Indian IT industry is uniquely positioned to advocate paperless initiatives. Companies can reduce the use of paper-based products by embracing electronic documentation, digital signatures, and cloud-based storage solutions. This change to a paperless strategy not only benefits the environment, but also streamlines processes, improves productivity, and emphasises the industry's commitment to sustainable practices.
Collaborating for innovation
Combating plastic pollution demands collaboration and creative thinking. To drive the study and development of sustainable alternatives to plastic, the Indian IT industry can proactively interact with startups, academic institutions, and environmental organisations. It can also invest in programmes aimed at identifying and adopting eco-friendly materials and solutions. This partnership for innovation will not only accelerate industry development but will also drive systemic change across sectors, increasing the impact of the Indian IT industry in tackling plastic waste.
Promoting employee engagement
In order to create far-reaching change, employees must also be engaged in the mission to battle plastic pollution. By organising awareness campaigns, providing training sessions, and cultivating a culture of sustainability, the Indian IT industry can create a greener work culture. Educating employees on the environmental consequences of plastic waste and empowering them to adopt eco-friendly practices at work and at home can create a positive ripple effect. When an industry fosters a sense of environmental responsibility, it paves the way for a more sustainable future.
In March this year, Imperial College in London, UK, and a Britain-based startup, Polymateri, claimed that they had co-developed a technology to produce 'plastics' that have a predetermined life span, after which they undergo a self-destructive process and biotransform. More inventions like this can have a massive transformative impact on plastic generation, and I have hope that the tech industries in India and across the world will create more such solutions to keep plastic out of our oceans, our ecosystem, and our food chain. As Sylvia Earle, one of the first female oceanographers, said about plastic pollution, “It is the worst of times, but it is the best of times, because we still have a chance.”
(Alok Bansal is MD Visionet Systems India & Global Head of BFSI Business)