Accelerated decarbonization linked to digitalization efforts

Photo by Andrej Lišakov

A report by MIT Technology Review Insights explores how digital technologies play a pivotal role in the net-zero transition and why a shift in organizational culture is needed to understand and address the challenges.

The report, “Digital technology: The backbone of a net-zero emissions future” is produced in partnership with Shell and draws on a global survey of 350 C-suite executives along with in-depth interviews with experts from firms including Accenture, Microsoft, Shell, and the World Economic Forum. The findings are as follows:

Digitalization is the backbone that will support energy transition 

Despite differences across industries and regions, when asked to rank the top three ways (on a scale of 1 to 10) digital technology aids in achieving their decarbonization goals, executives have many expectations: optimizing efficiency and reducing energy and waste (scoring 6.8 overall); designing and optimizing carbon sequestration technologies (6.7); making sustainability data accessible, verifiable, and transparent (6.2); monitoring GHG sinks (6.6); and designing and optimizing low-carbon footprint energy systems (5.8).

For most industries, the main decarbonization lever is a circular economy 

A majority (54%) of participants from all industries (except for petrochemical manufacturing) cite a circular economy as their dominant environmental sustainability goal.

A circular economy minimizes waste with reduced consumption, increased efficiency, and resource and energy recapture.

Partnering with technology experts is how industries innovate with digital solutions 

The most cited approach to adopting new digital technology is through vendor partnerships (31%). Executives are less likely, however, to emphasize the importance of open standards and data sharing across the supply chain to accelerate digital technology deployment, with only 16% identifying it as the top enabler.

Attitudes toward tech adoption and innovation vary by sector and region 

Cybersecurity is the biggest external obstacle to digital transformation for decarbonization (58%). Construction companies are most apprehensive of tech adoption (78%), while metals and mining companies are less concerned (47%).

Only 11% of respondents experiment with digital technologies early on in their lifecycle.

A digital culture is needed to understand and address the challenges of decarbonization 

Effective systems and personnel, in addition to data availability, are needed for successful adoption of digital technologies. Leaders must create digital coalitions, inspire transformation, and emphasize the significance of technology integration.

“The entire global economy must participate in the transition to net zero,” says Laurel Ruma, global director of custom content for MIT Technology Review. “Creating a digital culture that fosters innovation and cooperation is key to achieving organizational sustainability goals.”

“The future of energy is decarbonised, decentralised, and digital,” says Dan Jeavons, vice president of computational science and digital innovation at Shell. “We believe open innovation is crucial to accelerate digital innovation for decarbonisation. But not every sector is yet convinced. We must work together to shift that mindset.”