How emerging technologies are driving circularity, electric transportation and more

This article originally appeared in GreenBiz and can be seen here

When I was a kid, my dad told me that his favorite technological advancements were the automatic garage door and the automatic ice maker. I didn’t fully understand why at the time. But I get it now.

When I leave my office today, I will pull out my mobile phone, order a Lyft and walk out to meet the driver within a minute. While in the car, I’ll use Seamless to have my dinner delivered at my exact arrival time, and the Nest thermostat in my apartment automatically will adjust to my desired temperature once I am within a mile.

Technology continues to make our lives easier. But, besides convenience, it has the incredible potential to reduce our day-to-day impact on the environment. And that’s why I look forward to the VERGE conference each year.

This year, VERGE is focusing on how technology is supercharging sustainability in three areas in particular: circularity; energy; and transportation.

In my role with EDF Climate Corps, I’m seeing greater interest from companies wanting to use innovative technologies to accelerate sustainability and scale solutions across nearly every sector. Here are some ways I’ve seen it happening across those three areas in particular.

Circularity

Circularity is front-of-mind for many. Consumers are demanding that businesses reduce the impact of their products on the planet. Companies are responding by taking a close look at the end of use/product lifecycle of their services and optimizing resource use.

It’s a big undertaking because circularity is not just about diverting waste at the end of a product’s life, it’s also about focusing on more sustainable design at the beginning of product life, such as incorporating recycled content or using modular design principles.

Nearly three decades ago, EDF and McDonald’s teamed up to tackle solid waste and accelerate innovation in packaging. Now, McDonald’s customer packaging comes from renewable, recycled or certified sources. The company also has hosted a total of eight EDF Climate Corps fellows across both its U.S. and China-based facilities to advance its sustainability goals, including those around circularity. Last year, a fellow helped engage suppliers, franchise owner/operators, office employees and key internal functions to reduce McDonald’s direct and indirect carbon footprint through GHG management and recycling/waste programs.

Transportation

Streets are crowded with vehicles: passenger cars; buses; freight trucks; etc. Fortunately, emerging technologies are paving the way for a clean and efficient system, creating a market for electric vehicles, ride-sharing platforms and connected infrastructure. There’s an incredible opportunity to grow these efficient technologies but doing so requires public support for adoption.

Enter Con Edison. The public utility developed a series of pilot projects to get more of its customers into electric vehicles. It called for proposals for innovative solutions to drive electric transportation forward in New York City. It's also planning to improve EV infrastructure by deploying publicly available fast chargers.

To enhance public support of EV projects, Con Edison’s EV demonstration program hired an EDF Climate Corps fellow this year to develop a public engagement strategy for improving customer awareness and acceptance, leading to a greater adoption of EVs in its service territory.

Energy

Energy management has evolved dramatically over the past few years thanks to emerging technologies. Now, companies are tackling projects such as increasing

Project Manager, EDF Climate Corps

resiliency by securing backup power through energy storage or scaling remote sensors that regulate energy use across portfolios of buildings.

AT&T has been driving innovation through its Smart Cities initiative: a framework for helping cities improve functions such as transportation, lighting, safety and sustainability. The initiative incorporates technologies such as digital infrastructure and the internet of things to advance projects ranging from implementing intelligent LED lighting solutions to increasing reliable data to help inform decision making around urban transportation planning.

For the past three years, EDF Climate Corps has worked with AT&T Smart Cities to estimate the potential environmental and economic benefits delivered by these next-generation technologies. The result is the creation of a financial model that can estimate the impact of largescale deployment of digital infrastructure.

In Atlanta alone, the technologies could bring an economic benefit of about $144 million and save over 51,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The model also sheds light on the importance of putting sustainability at the core of the AT&T Smart Cities business model and integrating it into products.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for these areas of innovation at VERGE 18 this week (and sharing with my dad so he can move on from the wonders of the automatic garage door).


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