Sustainable Development Goals

What do the SDGs mean for TMT in 2019?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 goals set out by the United Nations within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; they call for urgent collective action towards global challenges, such as hunger, unemployment and climate change. Businesses can help bridge the gap towards achieving the SDGs by enshrining sustainable development in their purpose and core activities; businesses are increasingly finding that there is an inextricable link between a commitment to sustainable development and enduring commercial success.

The importance of the SDGs in the TMT Sector

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), encapsulated within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, identify some of the biggest challenges facing our planet today, and call for action to address them. The 17 goals, and their 169 sub-targets, focus on a range of issues that are relevant and persistent throughout the world, such as reducing inequality, tackling pollution and ensuring economic prosperity for all. Achieving these goals requires the input of all governments, individuals and organisations within global society, including businesses.

In order to contribute effectively, businesses must look to incorporate sustainable development across their entire business model, and position their core activity in a manner that contributes towards the SDG Agenda. Pursuing sustainable development through core business will lead to a more powerful contribution to the SDGs, and help to demonstrate a genuine commitment on the part of the business. Against a backdrop of increasing public pressure, especially from millennials, for businesses to pursue a purpose beyond profit, strong and growing investor sentiment that “companies producing social or environmental benefits alongside financial ones” are more favourable long-term investments, and an expectation amongst the general public that CEOs should take the lead on driving societal change; this will not only drive benefits for wider society, but also for the business itself, as it better realises its stakeholders’ expectations.

Sustainable development is especially relevant within the TMT sector, given the sector’s key role in driving the advancements in science, technology and innovation that have been consistently recognised by the UN and other groups as a critical enabler for achieving the SDGs. Novel and technology-driven approaches are required if we want to achieve key targets, placing TMT organisations at the cutting edge, and providing them with the opportunity, and obligation, to lead on development in this area. Many TMT organisations already have, and will continue to be, at the forefront of delivering on the SDGs; and the 2019 TMT Predictions show how the opportunities exist for this to grow further in the coming years.

Driving the SDGs through the TMT predictions

The TMT Predictions represent the future of the industry, and therefore the future of ways in which technology can be harnessed to positively impact upon the SDGs. Whilst some may be more readily applicable to a wider array of causes than others, all of these advancements and trends can be harnessed to drive social good; and it is the role of the TMT Sector to help lead this work.

Many organisations are already developing novel and innovative applications of the technologies highlighted in the 2019 Predictions, which are contributing positively to the SDGs. Below, we explore a few recent examples to give a flavour of the innovations occurring. However, we have focussed specifically on four of the predicted trends, due to the numerous use cases identified for each, and three of the SDGs (3, 11 and 12), due to the high impact that we expect the predictions will have on these areas in the coming year.

Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing

We expect that the increasing maturity of each of the highlighted technologies will lead to significant advancements in our ability to measure, process and share medical information. This in turn will help to drive innovative new ways of delivering and accessing improved healthcare around the world. Below are two innovative examples of businesses in the healthcare sector harnessing new technologies to deliver on SDG 3.

  • The Human Diagnosis Project (Human Dx) seeks to combine collective human expertise with machine learning technology to create an open medical intelligence platform that is scrutable, accessible and affordable, in order to develop the skills of healthcare workers and patients, and in doing so improve access to medical care. It is one of the largest medical knowledge projects globally, involving over 15,000 professionals across 80+ countries, and has links with numerous leading public and private medical organisations. Human Dx operates a case study based assessment and training system, which allows for tailored training to be delivered to health workers quickly and remotely; the platform can also provide decision support, combining the crowdsourcing of medical professional opinions with the use of machine learning for synthesis and analysis to assist users who upload complex medical cases. As the platform matures, a variety of new use cases are also being explored, such as patient-facing medical opinions, quality-based claims adjudication, and predictive disease surveillance. This range of use cases contributes to several SDG 3 targets, such as Target 3.C “increase… development, training… of the health workforce in developing countries”, as well as working towards other SDGs, such as SDG 4.
  • Unlimited Tomorrow produces high quality upper-limb prosthetics at a tenth of their usual cost, by combining 3D scanning and printing, biometric sensors and machine learning. Unlimited Tomorrow send 3D scanners to patients, in order to minimise the time taken to measure for prosthetics, before using 3D printing of the subsequent design to rapidly and cheaply produce realistic limbs. They have combined this printing technique with biometric sensors and machine learning in order to provide functionality to the limbs, rapidly increasing both usability and customer experience. The affordability and improved functionality of Unlimited Tomorrow’s prosthetics is contributing to SDG 3’s broader goal of “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all”.

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Cities around the world are facing a growing number of issues that affect their long-term sustainability, such as overpopulation, air pollution and isolation of vulnerable groups. We expect the growth in connected devices driven by the expansion of 5G networks, and the increasing maturity of machine learning tools, will allow for increasingly sophisticated monitoring and real-time responses to these issues. Below, we explore two innovative examples of such monitoring.

  • Globally, congestion in cities is a growing issue, with commuters in some cities spending up to 100 hours on average in a year in congestion. This creates unnecessary costs, air pollution and stress on the road network. Solutions such as Surtrac by Rapid Flow uses AI to optimise traffic networks through signal planning, receiving information and co-ordinating reactions through APIs to existing systems and sensors. This technology has been rolled out in numerous cities in the USA and is planned for rollout in other countries in 2019, including the UK specifically, after initial testing delivered a reduction in travel times for commuters of 25%. The reduction in travel times subsequently reduces air pollution, and so Surtrac is directly contributing to Target 11.6 “by 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities”.
  • A number of UK Councils are exploring the potential of smart speakers to support independent living at home for longer. The functionalities of voice-activated assistants can help adults with reduced mobility and special care needs and enhance their day-to-day living experience. In an unprecedentedly accessible and affordable way, smart speakers provide a source of social connection, mental stimulation and entertainment. They also support self-care with users or their loved ones being able to use smart speakers to support compliance with a healthy regime, for example with medication reminders or prompts to exercise. Several trials are underway to understand how councils can unlock the greatest social value from smart speakers across adult social care service users, but also informal carers (family), social workers, and the wider, aging population. By supporting self-care and social connection, such initiatives contribute to both SDG 3 and SDG 11.

Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Given the increasing pressure to participate in the circular economy (a key element of SDG 12), we expect firms will continue to explore new ways to utilise more sustainable sources of materials and new manufacturing procedures to drive efficiency, and use connected sensors and AI to reduce wastage throughout the product lifecycle.

  • Although 3D printing itself is contributing positively towards SDG 12 by increasing manufacturing efficiencies and keeping production waste and transport costs to a minimum, the actual materials used by 3D printers, typically plastics or metals, are still largely finite and environmentally unfriendly. Businesses are responding to calls for more sustainable 3D printing materials in innovative ways. For example, Advanced BioCarbon 3D (ABC3D) recently succeeded in developing a wood-based bioplastic material for use in 3D printing. The material is made from waste wood and is heat and moisture resistant – and will soon be suitable for use in engineering applications. Another company, Fishy Filaments9, repurposes fishing nets into engineering grade filament for 3D printing that can create long-lasting products. Both of these companies are having a direct and positive impact on Target 12.5 “by 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse”. 
  • Blue Yonder’s Demand Forecast & Replenishment technology uses AI to deliver probabilistic grocery demand forecasts based on hundreds of different variables such as weather, promotions and holidays. The forecasts are then used to determine optimal order quantities every day for every product and every store, without the need of manual intervention. This technology has helped large retail grocers both optimise food ordering, significantly reducing both stock outs and food wastage13, and directly contributing to Target 12.3 “by 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels”.  

The outlook for TMT and the SDGs in 2019

The TMT sector is uniquely positioned to help address the SDGs; and alongside the rest of society, is under increasing pressure to do so. Many TMT organisations have already made great progress in this area, and appear set to continue this work going forward. Going into 2019, the TMT Predictions highlight plenty of opportunity to further develop and expand upon this activity, if TMT organisations work to align their core business with the SDGs.

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