Traffic control systems not only optimize traffic, they can also save a great deal of energy. Optimized routing can cut fuel consumption by ten percent,11 while car-to-car communication can reduce it by around 20 percent.12 Resources can also be saved by intelligently connecting various mobility services such as car sharing, local public transportation and (electric) rental bicycles. But one thing is clear: Cutting CO2 alone isn’t enough to develop a sustainable society. When it comes to sustainability, the resources consumed in production also play a critical role.
Another problem is that manufacturers have to supply the market with new products in order to survive financially. This problem is intensified by increasingly short technology cycles, which mean that products are replaced faster. Longevity or alternative revenue streams are currently receiving very little attention on a macroeconomic level. Software is no longer updated, batteries are permanently installed for design reasons, and expensive replacement parts make repairs cost-prohibitive. The inability to repair devices leads to increased demand and thus more production. The demand for raw materials such as metals and rare-earth elements is growing. Because of this people and the environment are often ruthlessly exploited in developing and emerging countries.
Strengthening the circular economy with the support of digitalization can help solve this problem. Systematic quality management, including early and extensive software tests and updates, can prevent the failure of devices and infrastructures. According to industry estimates, software errors in German companies alone result in losses of around 84.4 billion euros annually.13 The digitalization of industrial and agricultural processes can not only save energy, but lead to higher productivity and efficiency as well. In farming, for example, fertilizer and water use could be reduced to achieve more environmentally sustainable agriculture.14
In computer technology processes are being reconsidered, as well: Not all data has to be stored in the energy-intensive cloud. Decentralized data processing is a promising alternative with significant energy-saving potential, because less data needs to be transported and stored. Data portals like those for urban data spaces can help reduce the redundant collection of data.15 But what good is this data if it cannot be interconnected? Therefore, the lack of interoperability is a serious and pressing issue. Standards-based digitalization can help eliminate the patchwork of often incompatible solutions. It also offers a great opportunity to simplify access to education, promote lifelong learning for everyone, and support the economy and administration. These are just a few examples of how the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) are being addressed through intelligent, resource-efficient digitalization solutions.16 However, sustainable digitalization can only succeed on a wide scale if we change our way of thinking in all spheres of society, increase our awareness of sustainable development and take action. Fraunhofer FOKUS is creating the technological conditions for this purpose and is demonstrating potential solutions.