Syed is Accenture’s High Tech global lead, helping clients reinvent their business, optimize supply chain and create new revenue models.
The high-tech industry is central to moving the sustainability agenda forward and enabling a greener planet through the design of more sustainable products using the rise of smart sensors as a way to better manage energy consumption.
At my company Accenture, we have already seen great progress in a wide variety of products, from smart thermostats and solar-powered smart watches to electric vehicles and more power-efficient CPUs in data centers. These products are not only more sustainable and good for the environment, but they are also good for business and future growth.
A recent study from United Nations Global Compact and Accenture shows strategies and business models with sustainability at their core are not only a climate imperative but also the foundation for better security, growth and resilience. This is supported by another recent study’s indication that the supply chain is key to fighting climate change, as supply chains generate up to 60% of global emissions.
While many companies have mastered Scope 1 emissions, most companies lack visibility into the upstream supplier base, called “Scope 3” emissions. For high-tech companies, 86% of upstream Scope 3 emissions sit outside their Tier 1 suppliers.
High-tech companies are deploying strategies to help the industry meet environmental sustainability goals. The Semiconductor Climate Consortium is one excellent example of semiconductor companies coming together to collaborate and align on common approaches and technology innovations to continuously reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In this article, I will outline five strategies high-tech leaders can adopt to ensure a more sustainable future both within their own organizations and across the supply chain.
1. Recycling Products
E-waste, driven in part by consumers upgrading to the latest smartphones and data centers swapping out servers to keep up with the demands of AI, is both damaging to the planet and costing high-tech companies money. According to the United Nations, global e-waste volumes grew 17% between 2014 and 2019, with over 53 million tons of e-waste in 2019.
High-tech companies are in a unique position to help reduce e-waste by designing products for reuse, resale, repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing, which Accenture and the United Nations study shows can boost operating profit by 16%.
Many technology giants already have successful recycling programs in place that encourage partner participation. In 2022, Accenture partner Cisco launched the Environmental Sustainability Specialization (ESS), a program to educate customers, promote product takeback and assist in the move to circular business models.
As many companies have proven, this can constitute a great opportunity to save money and create new revenue streams while reducing carbon footprints by avoiding single-use inputs and designing for refurbishment and longevity.
2. Selecting Cleaner Raw Materials
As the demand for more sustainable materials rises, more companies are starting to use cleaner minerals such as copper, lithium, nickel and cobalt. Fortunately, materials suppliers have stepped up efforts to deliver eco-friendly solutions to enable companies to make this transition.
Accenture partner Solvay, a supplier of alternative materials, has been developing new solutions to reduce waste materials generated by semiconductor manufacturing. Its products are helping customers recycle polyvinylidene fluoride, a byproduct of chipmaking.
3. Adopting Greener Manufacturing Processes
Many manufacturing companies are making strides in reducing electricity consumption, recycling water and adopting greener manufacturing practices.
Accenture partner Lam Research invested in LED lighting processes and improvements to HVAC equipment such as air compressors. Likewise, companies such as Winbond are using a new low-temperature soldering (LTS) process to reduce the temperatures needed for the assembly of components. These lower temperatures can lead to faster manufacturing throughput while also lowering temperatures to reduce carbon emissions.
Leaders continue to adopt solutions capable of streamlining production processes, using digital tools and deploying more efficient supply chains to save energy and optimize logistics to reduce truck rolls, which can help lower carbon footprints.
Accenture partner Hitachi’s Lumada Manufacturing Insights is a perfect example, as it is helping manufacturers develop data-driven operations, increase supply chain visibility and enable smart factory solutions to improve productivity and lower asset downtime.
4. Designing More Power-Efficient Products
At this year’s CES, we saw many energy-efficient products come to life as companies introduced products focused on managing home energy usage, including battery packs, solar panels and EV chargers. Accenture partner Schneider Electric released the “Home” energy platform to monitor energy usage, manage backup power during an outage and connect to utility programs for savings on electricity bills.
The industry migration to the cloud has also helped significantly reduce global power consumption. Because the cloud supports many products at a time, it can more efficiently distribute resources among users. Companies like Accenture partner Google have made inroads in making their cloud services power efficient, with claims new data centers are twice as energy efficient as a typical enterprise data center—delivering five times as much computing power for the same amount of electrical power as five years ago.
5. Embedding Sustainability Into Supplier Selection And Management
As companies source new suppliers and optimize existing ones, they should embed sustainability in every step of the supply chain management process. This includes analyzing the supplier base to determine the biggest source of emissions and having data-driven conversations with suppliers to reduce emissions.
Digital tools such as digital twins can be used to map physical material flows to uncover sub-tier suppliers and risks. By proactively working with suppliers on an ongoing basis, high-tech companies can identify bottlenecks within the supply chain and help mitigate disruptive events while improving their own decarbonization performance.
Social Innovations Without Waste
While the industry has made great strides toward global sustainability, there is still much work to be done. With the value of global sustainability assets rising above $220 billion, it is increasingly evident that investing in sustainability is not just morally responsible but financially savvy.
Organizations must reduce massive surges in energy consumption, water usage and CO2 emissions and develop sustainable products and services to help customers in their own sustainability transformations. The transition to sustainability presents a tremendous revenue-generating opportunity for companies that act quickly to develop—and adopt—greener technologies.