What happens when gray and green merge?
In the new era, sustainability and technological development go hand in hand

Author: Jani Moisala

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Throughout history, technological innovations have marked significant milestones, but today, we face perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity of all: combining sustainable development with technological progress. These two realms – the green and the gray – are often treated and managed as separate domains, although combining them can set us on a path towards growth.

Industry stands at the crossroads of its era, and significant decisions must be made to move towards innovation and growth. Alternatively, competitiveness may decline, leading to stagnation. Companies that can unite the forces of sustainability and technology stand to gain substantial competitive advantages. New technologies can help businesses reduce resource consumption, improve energy efficiency, and create entirely new business models.

Key drivers of industrial transformation are exceptional

In retrospect, one can observe a pattern where technological breakthroughs have led to significant societal changes. The invention of the steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution, the proliferation of electricity revolutionized production systems, and the rise of information technology digitized processes and methods. Each of these transformative forces has not only affected how products are manufactured but also how societies and economies function.

Today’s transformative forces extend beyond technology. Sustainability has emerged at the forefront of industry, profoundly impacting companies’ reputations and end products. Environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic sustainability are becoming integrated into the values and strategies of industrial firms.

It is crucial to understand that industry is not isolated but interacts with the global economy, politics, and societal movements. Recognizing and comprehending these key transformative forces is paramount to building a sustainable and prosperous future.

The role of industry in sustainable development

Sustainability is now key to success in global markets. The three pillars of sustainability – ecological, social, and economic – significantly influence how industrial companies define their success and where they invest. Balancing and integrating these pillars is challenging but necessary.

Ecological sustainability directly relates to preserving our planet’s resources. Industry bears a significant responsibility for global carbon emissions, and therefore, it must lead the search for solutions. Energy efficiency, the adoption of renewable energy sources, and the application of circular economy principles are examples of how industry can reduce its environmental footprint.

Companies are also investing in social and economic sustainability

Social sustainability focuses on people: employees, consumers, and the communities in which industry operates. This entails safe working conditions, fair wages, and opportunities for personal development within and outside the company. Today, social responsibility for businesses is emphasized more than ever, driven by the expectations of consumers, investors, and regulators.

Economic sustainability is a complex matter, but at its core, it is about creating long-term value for the company and its stakeholders. This involves investments in new technology, expertise, and innovation, as well as risk management and readiness for future challenges.

It is crucial to understand that industry is not isolated but interacts with the global economy, politics, and societal movements.

Technology continues its rapid evolution

As sustainability requirements grow, technological development shows no signs of slowing down but continues at a brisk pace. Digitalization has already deeply affected industrial structures and practices, and it is clear that its rapid development will continue to reshape the industrial landscape. Digitalization also offers opportunities to simultaneously achieve ecological and economic benefits.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning enable the rapid analysis of increasingly complex datasets, helping companies predict future trends, demand, and risks. This, in turn, leads to better decision-making, cost-efficiency, and innovation. To remain competitive and sustainable, companies must embrace these new technologies and integrate them into their operations.

Towards automation

Many industrial processes that once required immediate human involvement can now be automated and optimized through digital technologies. Automatic quality control systems, increased sensors, and data analysis have revolutionized production lines, making them more flexible, efficient, and reliable.

Autonomous operations extend beyond factories and production lines. For instance, in logistics, autonomy is becoming increasingly prevalent, resulting in more efficient transportation of materials and products while reducing environmental impacts. In the future, artificial intelligence, automation, and blockchain will enable more efficient and flexible processes.

The synergy between sustainable development and technologies

Sustainability should no longer be viewed solely as an environmentally friendly endeavor; it is usually economically profitable as well. Energy-efficient processes, waste-minimizing production lines, and circular economy practices can yield significant savings for companies. New technologies, in turn, facilitate the adoption and optimization of these sustainable solutions.

Real-time monitoring of emissions and waste by facilities enables companies to react quickly and efficiently. Artificial intelligence can analyze vast amounts of data, identifying ways to streamline processes while reducing resource consumption.

The integration of digitalization and sustainability also creates new business opportunities. For example, smart energy solutions or digital platforms for material sharing and recycling can open new markets and provide added value to customers.

We are living in an era of investment and innovation

Companies must be prepared to invest in new areas of expertise, technologies, and solutions to remain competitive and address the challenges of our time. Investments can take the form of direct financial investments or investments of time and expertise.

Companies can engage with development communities, gaining a better understanding, insights, and support while finding partners to assist them. Companies can also invest in enhancing their technological capabilities through research and development in various areas.

Innovation plays a vital role in this industrial transformation. New ideas, products, and services can open up markets, increase efficiency, and reduce environmental impact. Sustainable innovations can enhance a company’s reputation and provide added value to stakeholders.

Sustainability should no longer be viewed solely as an environmentally friendly endeavor; it is usually economically profitable as well.

As a result, a stronger industry emerges

When sustainability and technological development combine, the result is not only a more responsible but also a stronger and more efficient industry. It is crucial to view investments as opportunities, as well-targeted investments can yield significant returns in the long term, strengthening a company’s position in the market.

Of course, every change comes with its challenges. Companies must invest in new technologies and train their workforce to use them. Additionally, data security and privacy must be considered as companies increasingly move their operations to the cloud. Collaboration with stakeholders, whether suppliers, customers, or government representatives, is essential to ensure that technological solutions become sustainable and efficient.

Sustainability must be deeply integrated into technological solutions, and industrial decision-makers should recognize these opportunities and adapt their thinking and strategies accordingly. Only then can companies be part of the solution, not the problem.

How can companies prepare for significant change?

If a company wants to remain competitive in a rapidly changing environment, it must prepare for future changes. Preparation involves more than just making technological investments; it also encompasses developing expertise, adapting corporate culture, and, above all, creating a vision for where the company is headed.

  1. The first step in implementing change is recognizing what is changing and why. This requires continuous monitoring of markets, technology, and customer behavior, as well as scenario planning. The company must also actively listen to its employees, customers, and other stakeholders to gain a comprehensive understanding of its business environment.
  2. Developing expertise is one of the most critical factors for successful change. Embracing new practices and technologies often requires acquiring new skills and attitudes. This applies not only to technical staff but also to management and other key personnel.
  3. Adapting corporate culture can be challenging but is essential. Culture defines how a company operates, makes decisions, and responds to changes. The company must foster a culture that encourages innovation, risk-taking, and continuous learning.
  4. Last but not least, a company needs a clear vision of its future. This vision guides decision-making, investments, and strategic direction. Without a clear vision, a company may lose its way and competitiveness.

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