How Digital Design Innovation Can Drive Sustainability

Sustainability should be a priority for all of us. Reducing our global carbon emissions is critical, with many forecasters predicting disastrous scenarios if we cannot change our habits.

However, while the focus is typically on real-world behavioural changes, we often overlook the role of the digital sector in sustainability as a field. Digital sustainability is about understanding how technologies and businesses in the digital space can impact carbon emissions and how companies can do more to combine digital innovation with sustainable practices.

Even minor actions such as sending emails can impact our sustainability. The average office worker’s yearly email activity is responsible for around 0.6 tonnes CO2e. Despite this statistic, technology and digital measures also have the power to reduce climate change. In fact, ICT solutions can enable a 15.3% reduction in greenhouse gas by 2030.

So how can we reduce our digital carbon footprint?

Using digital design practices to reduce waste

We regularly discuss the Agile and Lean methodologies on our blog. One of their core philosophies is reducing waste in both product and resource. This is critical for sustainability – as waste production is a key factor in emissions. While lean manufacturing might have the most ‘visible’ impact in terms of actually reducing physical waste, companies that adopt Lean and Agile practices can also help improve sustainability in different ways such as:

  • Only investing in required technologies and supporting them throughout their service life, rather than replacing them whenever an issue occurs.

  • Using remote working principles to alleviate transport requirements for employees.

  • Supporting the creation of technology-driven systems that can minimise waste

  • Minimising resource waste through the creation of efficient design/development processes. Agile, for example, can cut down on wasted hours and needless features, which in turn, will reduce employee carbon output.

  • Opting for green utility suppliers. The ICT sector is a growing burden for global electricity consumption so choosing green suppliers is a must.

  • Collaborating with clients and companies with digital sustainability policies and a strong corporate social responsibility policy.

But this is all way too basic

You’re not reading our blog to get a list of common ways to reduce waste. However, when discussing waste reduction, we need to acknowledge that software developers and designers can design waste-reducing features or even create more waste through bad practices.

Designing sustainable technology

Digital solutions can optimise sustainability by reducing wasteful practices on a micro and macro scale. For example, apps like DriveScore given to young drivers to ensure they drive more safely and sustainably, whilst also reducing their premiums – or the ‘Too Good To Go’ app that allows restaurants to sell waste food cheaply rather than dispose of it.

As a software team, you can embrace measures that directly impact sustainability. This is an almost limitless area worth exploring, with ideas that include:

  • Using cloud computing reduces hardware reliance and power consumption.

  • Designing smart devices using the Internet of Things can help reduce waste and improve efficiency (think of innovations such as smart waste bins).

  • Leveraging data analytics to improve recycling practices and reduce waste.

  • Creating AI-driven software and robotics designed to improve current waste management features – consider self-driving street sweepers or robots that can sort recyclables in landfill.

Developing apps to combat sustainability issues is not the only way you can make an impact. Embracing Cloud-driven databases and systems to create more automation and less reliance on system-specific hardware means you’ll naturally be reducing wastage.

If clients don’t need a specific tool to use your app, they are less likely to buy another new device. On an organisational level, this can be enormous: imagine if you develop a new company app for 10,000 employees, but it only works properly on Apple – the business may need to buy new devices and, ultimately, increase their waste and carbon footprint in the process.

Even if you’re not ready to make sustainability a core part of your approach – you just need to realise that all electronic devices have a certain carbon cost and anything you can do as a software developer to reduce that will have a positive benefit.

As software consultants, we have an added opportunity to audit customer technology and build solutions that eliminate waste and, ultimately, prioritise sustainability.

Artificial Intelligence: a promising, but costly, sustainable solution

Artificial intelligence can change the world, but training an AI is also one of the most costly practices in all software development in terms of carbon emissions. Studies show that training a single neural network model can emit as much carbon as an American car emits over FIVE lifetimes (including its manufacture).

While AI might one day be able to solve humanity’s sustainability problems miraculously, it is currently one of the least ‘green’ software processes on the planet.

Sustainable product design in action

You don’t need sustainability to be front and centre to make a positive impact. A good software business that understands UX and meets user needs is already primed to help reduce wasteful practices.

When a client approached us with an outdated system for printing in-car manuals, we knew we could design a solution that would benefit them from a cost perspective and naturally improve sustainability.

We audited their entire process and devised new software to create an efficient print-on-demand system that assigned specific flyers to specific vehicles. This meant that physical employees would no longer be prone to errors and only printed materials when required. In addition, the client had previously relied on an outdated system running on old hardware, whereas our product used the cloud to keep it secure, stable and sustainable.

KOMODO designed a system that cuts down on waste and better serves the client’s requirements. Waste reduction was not the goal – but it was a benefit we were able to offer and one that illustrates how problem-focused software naturally cuts down on waste.

Talk to KOMODO today if you’re interested in discussing how software solutions can improve your sustainability. Our team are specialists in user-driven problem solving and will help identify your business’s primary sources of waste. Get in touch to learn more.

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