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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Innovating for Impact:
The Sustainable Tech Trends to Watch in 2024

Many companies have embarked on their sustainability journey. In 2024, the challenge will be to prioritize the innovations that add the most impact.

Sustainable technology is a rapidly advancing movement that is proving beneficial to the bottom line, as well as the environment. Gartner, which recently identified sustainable technology as one of its top strategic technologies for 2024, predicts that a quarter of CIO compensation will soon be linked to their sustainable technology impact. In the race to increase sustainability, however, businesses are increasingly faced with a dizzying array of options.

Here are some of the sustainable technology trends — and challenges — that will have the greatest impact in 2024.

Advancing automation throughout production

The growing convergence of products, software, and data across sectors has created valuable opportunities for enterprises to lower their carbon footprint in both product design and the manufacturing process. Automation, in all its forms, plays a critical part in delivering these sustainability benefits at scale.

Many businesses have already begun to leverage automation strategies, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and digital process automation (DPA) — but they can go further. Hyperautomation is the next frontier, promising greater efficiencies across a range of metrics — including power consumption and reduced waste.

For example, one leading FMCG supplier has developed an AI-based system to detect and prevent anomalies and malfunctions in the manufacturing process. This system is being rolled out in more than 800 production lines worldwide — shortening cycle times by up to 15 percent while massively reducing the company’s carbon footprint. In addition to accelerating productivity, this application of automation can also reduce downtime and waste because the automated system detects anomalies in real-time and then identifies, isolates and troubleshoots the affected element in the assembly line. Because this system does not require direct intervention and can respond in real-time, it prevents the damage of products that would ordinarily occur during a production glitch lasting just a few minutes.

AI and automation — extending sustainability benefits across the product lifecycle

Automation doesn’t just improve sustainable production; it’s a key element in advancing sustainable design goals. When combined with other game-changing technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud, automation technologies can help enterprises meet their sustainability goals much earlier in the product lifecycle — right at the start of the design process.

There are several examples of how AI and automation can embed sustainability across the product lifecycle, including:

  • Monitoring and modeling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with embedded IoT components

  • Automating power consumption at the component level to ensure sustainable improvements can be achieved without compromising safety

  • Utilizing advanced AI and automation to design lighter-weight products, which in turn reduce the carbon footprint at every future stage of the product lifecycle

Specifically, when used in conjunction with blockchain, automation technologies extend sustainability efforts into the supply chain — providing visibility and assurance that partner organizations are adhering to the same standards.

Could simulation inspire invention?

The value of the metaverse for businesses is too significant to be ignored. Sustainability is emerging as one of the major benefits of increased adoption of digital twin simulations, virtual training programs and R&D in the metaverse. For example, virtual training in high-risk industries streamlines the use of resources and equipment, as well as improving safety and performance outcomes.

In 2024, decarbonization is expected to be a growing driver for digital twin technology. For example, the aerospace and defense industries — traditionally a carbon-intensive sector — has increased investment in digital twin technology by 40 percent in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. Echoing efforts are underway in the automotive industry, where many organizations are evaluating hydrogen fuel and electric battery usage to decarbonize.

However, with digital twin technology, engineers must assess several scenarios in the early stages of development. Three-quarters of aerospace and defense firms see immediate value in using digital twins from the very beginning of product development and operations. They allow engineers to virtually validate each step of the design process — cutting down prototyping as well as testing time and costs. Beyond this, the technology can advance the efficiency of existing engines and improve utilization to save substantial amounts of carbon from being emitted.

Sustainability is facing serious challenges

Every business wants to improve margins, increase productivity, reduce waste and lower energy consumption. Yet, sustainability efforts are facing a backlash from several different corners — including a tide of anti-ESG sentiment among businesses and legislators in some states. Across carbon-intensive industries such as automotive, sustainable technologies offer a new path — but one that comes with increased costs, at least initially.

Price sensitivity is another significant challenge for sustainability efforts. Variability in the cost of raw materials is squeezing the supply chain at a time of global economic uncertainty. In some cases, such as the use of computer-intensive applications, the solutions themselves are attracting controversy as their carbon impact becomes clear.

Another key threat to sustainable technology comes from cybersecurity. As previously manual processes become digitized and systems grow more interconnected, the risk from cyberattacks grows. For example, the manufacturing sector experienced a 53 percent increase in attacks in H1 2023 compared to the previous period. In order for digital manufacturing to continue to drive sustainable innovation, businesses need to invest in becoming more resilient to the shifting digital-risk landscape.

Sustainable technologies in 2024 and beyond

Despite challenges, the public is becoming increasingly aware — and supportive of — technology as a force for climate solutions. As the pace of innovation in sustainable tech accelerates, sustainability will remain a major driver for establishing new business processes as well as enhancing traditional ones. With so many options in a rapidly evolving tech landscape, businesses must remain vigilant about the real value they’re adding and what competitive advantage sustainability offers.

Many companies have embarked on their sustainability journey. In 2024, the challenge will be to prioritize the innovations that add the most impact.