Direct correlation between sustainable business practices, climate-friendly investments, and business performance, results in increased profitability and stronger financials. Therefore, sustainability and going green is seen as the path to prosperity and long-term profits, and companies of all sizes take active steps to embrace the benefits of a green economy and sustainable future. Today, both governments and business entities seek innovative and advanced technologies and solutions to introduce new business models and leverage sustainable productivity. Digital technologies significantly contribute to the realisation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Cross-links between science, technology, and innovation are seen as the key means of successful implementation of the UN’s SDGs by 2030 – particularly SDG-6 water and sanitation, SDG-11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG-12 Responsible Consumption and Production and SDG-13 Climate Action. Data is considered the new currency for measuring impacts and outcomes to support decision making and support in developing innovative solutions, services and business models to accelerate the pursuit of achieving the targets of the SDGs. Digital enablers such as IoT sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain are bridging business profits and environmental protection along sustainable development.

The top 5 Digital Sustainability trends we are witnessing in 2022, linked to Climate-Smart Cities and Water Utilities, will both shape and transform growth and innovation prospects for the cross-section of stakeholders.

1. Real-time monitoring of emissions for better visibility to develop action plans and ascertain return on investment of climate action plans

Real-time data on local emissions provide an open platform for stakeholders to prioritize, plan, action and monitor science-based measures in a transparent manner. It is the next-generation climate intelligence solution combining real-time datasets with AI and is seen as a public good for all urban stakeholders. The technology comprises of smart sensors, wide range of dedicated GHG satellites, and traffic and buildings IoT devices. Combination of satellite and ground sensing software coupled with individualized climate monitoring platform with big data and machine learning analysis provides early indications of pollution hotspots, measure of carbon emissions to finance climate action, and identification of CO2 reduction opportunities to reduce emissions and achieve climate goals. The near real-time monitoring solution also supports funding and grants on climate action and enables to participate in emissions trading.

2. Smart Waste Management in Cities will drive key outcomes of higher efficiencies in collection, sorting and recycling – The solution that integrates smart sensors to monitor waste levels and composition in real-time with advanced tracking system and software to provide cities and businesses with automation of critical daily operations towards digital transformation, transparent waste streams, optimisation of waste collection and recycling, fulfilment of the EPR requirements as well as incorporation of mechanisms, such as pay-as-you-throw (PAYT), Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), or take-back system. Smart analytics is becoming the top analytical and reporting tool that enable organizations to understand its waste and make data-driven, strategic decisions. Top-quality innovations in scope of high-tech, efficiency analysis as well as know-how and exceptional expertise can lead to tangible and valuable benefits for the users as well as the environment.

3. Outcome-based smart solutions in metering and flood management

 Water is one of the most precious resources as the global human population is dependent on 0.5% of the total water available on earth that is accessible and readily available for consumption. Lack of equitable water availability and growing water stress due to climate change and pollution has led to adoption of water conservation policies across the globe. As per WHO, approximately 74% have access to safely managed drinking water services across the globe, except for countries like Oceania and parts of North Africa. The key problem is long-term environmental and economic sustainability of water supply coverage is hampered due to water loss that occurs between the source to end-user, this is defined as Non-Revenue Water (NRW).  Most countries have adopted – or are at the various stages of implementing smart water meters – which is a primary tool of choice for reduction of NRW. Up until a decade ago, water meters were primarily used for billing customers, but now the data is used to track & trace leaks, thefts and loss through AI & ML-based software/data analytics platforms that analyse data from the smart water meter. Furthermore, the data from smart water meters is used to educate the consumer on water usage patterns, thus helping to ensure water conservation and usage reduction. The major value proposition is holistic reduction of NRW by up to 50%, improved water availability & resilience to water stress or any form of disruption.

Urban flooding due to climate change factors like extreme rainfall, cloudburst, cyclones, rising sea levels and fast melting glaciers is one of most commonly recurring and deadliest natural disaster or climate hazards, affecting properties and causing loss of lives. The likelihood of recurrence of flooding events is increasing and, hence, urban cities, especially coastal cities, are exploring digital solutions to improve flood resilience and develop suitable infrastructure to ensure minimal loss. AI & ML-based software /data analytics platforms are being adopted to analyse real-time data which includes weather, status of urban drains & sponge infrastructure, water levels (of water bodies) and hydrological pattern. The key value proposition is the provision of flood warning, flood alerts, predictive insights for appropriate urban planning, real-time inundation maps and real-time assessment of flood damage.

4. Building as Material Banks (BAMB) to increase the value of building materials and enable circular building industry

The construction industry is one of the major users of resources and producers of waste, therefore has a central role in making the transition towards circular materials and components management systems a reality. The BAMB concept comprises of digital software platform facilitating access to information on four key levels: building level (transforming total building space), element level (reuse of key elements of a building), product level (reuse of building products), and material level (return of materials for manufacturing feedstock in closed loop).  The platform contains Circular Economy-relevant data enabling Reversible Building Design that can be easily transformed or deconstructed for second-life use of components or materials.​ BAMB enables the implementation of closed material cycles, maintaining or upgrading the value of materials, products and components through increased accessibility, functionality, and attractiveness​ as well as removal of materials from the building after lifetime without contamination and loss of quality. Digital platform connects supply and demand of components and materials with greater symbiosis among stakeholders along the entire value chain.  It also provides data to promote disassembly: process method, necessary tools, transportation and storage requirements, as well as characteristics of generated by-products.

5. Circular Economy as a Service business model driven by Track and Trace Solutions

Tracking and connecting physical goods with a blockchain-enabled digital twin facilitates a transition from both a linear and regulatory-driven linear approach to a B2B-driven closed loop that drives value for all participants in the circular economy. An increasing number of industries and sectors – from plastics to mining and fashion – are committing from an initial small percentage to 100% of recycled material and also realize the broader strategic vision of net zero.  Digital trace and track technology and supply chain integrity solutions enable physical and digital verification of raw materials at every stage along the value chain by digitising materials and objects on the blockchain supporting circular and closed-loop economy, as well as helping to fight against climate change. Improving supply chain collaboration using innovative digital technologies, including uplifting technology capabilities of individual suppliers, will enable the sharing of meaningful data-based information with key stakeholders. The result can bring significant savings in operational spending and resource consumptions, improve trust, safety, resilience and overall sustainability. Therefore, digital technologies offer significant growth opportunities for multiple stakeholders across industrial supply chains and are seen as the main accelerator of the supply chain revolution.

About Fredrick Royan

Fredrick Royan currently leads the Sustainability and Circular Economy Practice at Frost and Sullivan. Fredrick does research in water and waste management technology and service market. The current focus areas are around Sustainability and the Circular Economy, Risk and Resilience as well as Digital Transformation within both the Smart Water Management as well as a the Smart Waste Recycling Industry.

Fredrick Royan

Fredrick Royan currently leads the Sustainability and Circular Economy Practice at Frost and Sullivan. Fredrick does research in water and waste management technology and service market. The current focus areas are around Sustainability and the Circular Economy, Risk and Resilience as well as Digital Transformation within both the Smart Water Management as well as a the Smart Waste Recycling Industry.

Paul Hudson

Paul Hudson is a Senior Industry Analyst in the Sustainability and Circular Economy Practise at Frost & Sullivan. Paul has 7 years of experience in the environment  sustainability sector with expertise in growth, business development & policy consulting and associated research & analysis in this sector. His experience base covers a wide range of sectors in the water industry, providing advisory, strategy, road map creation and consulting services to those  in the water & wastewater market specifically those that offer treatment technology and digital solutions on the back of deep industry knowledge and expertise in technology / market evaluation and data analysis.

Paulina Blaszczyk

Paulina Blaszczyk, Industry Analyst for the Sustainability & Circular Economy Practice at Frost & Sullivan, focuses on growth opportunities in regards to sustainable development, Circular Economy, and resource management, with in-deep analysis of innovative smart technologies, solutions and services in waste management and recycling, digital transformation of resource management and supply chains, and decarbonization technologies.

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