Sustainable Development in a digital world.


Digital is here to stay, changing the world, and environmental and social challenges are still here, putting it at risk. The pandemic has accelerated the former and made us even more aware of the latter. That is why there is a historic opportunity for technology, well directed, to put us on track towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promoted by the United Nations for 2030, which aim to promote the prosperity of humanity and preserve the environment. Sustainability can give technology a purpose: to make a better planet.

Both citizens and companies and governments are becoming aware that ecological and social sustainability is increasingly necessary. Not everything is valid anymore: companies risk their public image to this card and the greenwashing it goes less and less unnoticed. Consumers pressure (especially the millenialls), also investors. “Beyond regulations, large and small investors also have mandates to bet on sustainable organizations”, explains Rebeca Minguela CEO of Clarity AI, “so that these types of companies are better able to attract capital”. At Clarity AI they focus on measuring in which areas companies can most positively affect the SDGs and what is the most efficient way to use resources, all using techniques such as Big Data or Machine Learning. They are not short of customers.

Within the economic system, more and more voices are observing that the system itself is threatened by problems such as inequality and climate change. This is how it looks at the Davos Forum when it promotes the capitalism of stakeholders (where it is not only important to distribute dividends to shareholders, but also clients, workers, suppliers, the environment or local communities matter), or in statements of investment companies such as BlackRock, the largest in the world, or powerful lobbies as Business Roundtable. Profit has to stop being the only factor to take into account: the capitalism of the future will be sustainable or it will not be. Technology can help.

“Spain has enviable infrastructures, for example, in fiber optics, and digitization and sustainability are well established in large companies; now it has to reach more SMEs and the self-employed ”, explains José Cerdán, CEO of Telefónica Tech. Digitization is essential in an increasingly competitive environment and allows the business to reach customers anywhere in the world. “A small honey company in La Alcarria can now sell its product to the whole planet, but for that it has to receive help and overcome the digital divide: it is necessary to automate and commoditize the processes, ”says Cerdán.

The use of Cloud technology or the implementation of well-understood teleworking (it seems that the hybrid model is going to be imposed) can mean great leaps forward in economic, ecological and social development, as long as the dangers related to cybersecurity are taken into account . Meanwhile, the arrival of European funds for the recovery after the Covid-19 crisis is a good opportunity to complete Spain’s digital transition in a competitive position with respect to neighboring countries. You have to tune up the economy and get rid of the inertia of the past.

“The public has the responsibility to act as a driving agent in digitization,” says Isabel Pardo de Vera, president of the public company Adif, which manages the railway infrastructures. Digitization can achieve better use of resources and better access to sustainability for citizens; and it is not only about the blind adoption of new technological tools. “First you have to define where you are going, measure it to improve and not degrade”, explains Pardo de Vera, “at the base of digitization are also people and the culture of processes.” Examples: customer orientation in the digital environment, energy efficiency or process automation. At Adif they define themselves as a sustainable mobility platform that wants to be open and connected to other ecological modes of transport, forming a large multimodal transport network. “The train has to be the main element of cohesion in Europe, as it was in the nineteenth century,” says the president.

“We are increasingly sensitive to the carbon footprint, even with more advanced plans than the regulatory ones, which we raise to investors to encourage reflection in this regard,” says Dimitris Bountolos, CIIO of Ferrovial. For this, they pay more and more attention to traceability, to the logistics chain of their activities and thus generate plans to reduce that footprint. “We want to accurately estimate our future needs so that they fit our consumption like a glove,” says Bountolos. An attitude that goes from investors to processes, going through the company from top to bottom. The ultimate goal: to be carbon neutral in 2050.

In small businesses the issues of digitization and sustainability are also important. “Fashion is one of the sectors that pollutes the most worldwide and that has to change. In addition, we tend to think that sustainability is linked only to the environment, but the social part is also very important ”, says Arena Martínez, founder four years ago of the fashion brand that bears his name and that is committed to mixing art and the clothes. They work locally, with local workers, with a love for craftsmanship and disseminating the work of emerging artists. Through technology they reach wider markets and thus spread their values. “People are increasingly aware that when you buy a one-euro shirt from a large textile company, that is not a good price, that price has its consequences on other ecosystems and other populations,” says Martínez. They are times of slow fashion: the responsible and non-compulsive consumption of quality garments that last longer and do not generate so many costs for the planet and societies.

It is not convenient to rest on your laurels, the planet does not wait: “Time is getting shorter to reach the SDGs and the speed with which progress is made towards them is vital: it is important to be realistic and prioritize what you each one can be more effective, ”concludes Minguela.

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