Fast Company

A Day of Two Halves at Copenhagen

COP15 activists

It's been a day of significant contrasts at Copenhagen as the end of the first week of COP15 draws to a close.

The day started with a clear challenge at the Climate Summit "Business Day" from Yvo de Boer, the UN's chief climate czar, that business was not making itself relevant or visible to negotiators. He claimed businesses were either lost in the details (heat pump standards) or asking for meaningless, generic measures (green growth). Worse still, according one participant, business is perceived by negotiators as attempting to limit carbon reduction efforts in its own short-term, self-interest.

Probably all a little too simplistic.

What most of my clients want is clear policy and regulation to create a level playing field so they can get on with the business of competing. But there are certainly some notes here that struck a chord.

This contrasted starkly with a rousing final session Friday evening at the stately Old Stock Exchange building in Central Copenhagen on the role the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector can play in enabling other industries to reduce their emissions through "SMART" technologies. Sponsored by a host of big names and excellent speakers from the industry, including Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist at Microsoft, and Laura Ipsen, Cisco's SMART Grid lead, there was some good content and a sign of more to come as ICT is applied liberally to Energy and Carbon Technology (ECT).

COP15 opening

It was good to finish the day on a high with a focus on the enormous wave of opportunity that the shift to a low-carbon economy will likely unleash. At Accenture, our view is that this transition could be of the magnitude of the shift from an analogue to a digital economy. It really is that sizeable when you consider the kinds of fundamental change that will be required in areas like energy supply, buildings efficiency and transport systems to decarbonize the global economy by perhaps as much as 80 percent by 2050.

This is an area where we are working closely with clients on around Intelligent Cities, SMART Buildings, and SMART metering. I believe it will be a major source of disruption, innovation, and growth in a number of ICT sectors in the next decade, not least telecommunications, and we are already seeing the early signs. I recently finished a study for Vodafone that started to quantify the market for low-carbon products and services. It showed that in Europe alone by 2020, wireless telecommunications could be at the heart of €43 billion (over $63 billion US) in customer energy savings, 113 million metric tons of carbon emissions reductions (to put that in context, it's about 2.5 percent of the EU's total in a decade or the same as current emissions in the UK), and create the need for a billion new connections.

That's genuinely disruptive innovation and genuinely exciting for global policy-makers looking for dramatic greenhouse gas cuts, not to mention telecommunications companies themselves looking for the next wave of growth. For those interested, Accenture and Vodafone jointly published this report, Carbon Connections.

Top 5 opportunity areas identified for wireless communication to power carbon savings:

1. Dematerialization: replacing physical goods, processes, or travel with "virtual" alternatives, such as video-conferencing or e-commerce (online shopping)
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Mobile telepresence - connecting "virtual meeting rooms" to mobile devices would allow workers to join conferences from anywhere. ­

Virtual office - using wireless telecommunications products means people can work remotely or from home. ­

Mobile delivery notifications for e-commerce - businesses can use mobile communications to contact customers for more efficient order placement and delivery.

2. Smart grid: improving efficiency of electricity grids through active monitoring and reducing reliance on centralized electricity production
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Energy network monitoring - wireless devices monitor losses and load capacity of the electricity transmission and distribution network. ­

Smart meter: micro-power generation - smart meters support the sale of energy generated locally to utility companies for distribution in the locality. ­

Smart meter: grid loading optimization - smart meters encourage end users to adjust daily electricity use and smooth consumption peaks, allowing energy providers to optimize grid loading.

3. Smart logistics: monitoring and tracking vehicles and their loads to improve the efficiency of logistics operations by utilizing vehicles more fully
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Centralized tracking - wireless vehicle tracking devices feed data to a central fleet management system to optimize speeds and routing (for large freight companies). ­

Decentralized tracking - onboard tracking devices communicate wirelessly with nearby vehicles to adjust speed and routing (for smaller freight companies). ­

Loading optimization - monitoring devices communicate vehicles' loading status to make use of spare capacity through re-routing. ­

Onboard telematics - data from vehicle sensors are used to plan predictive maintenance and encourage fuel-efficient driving. ­

Remote supply control - devices monitoring stock levels in vending machines can be linked wirelessly to suppliers for more efficient deliveries.

4. Smart cities: improving traffic and utilities management ­

Synchronized traffic and alert system - a monitoring system autonomously synchronizes traffic lights and notification boards, optimizing traffic flow and reducing congestion.

5. Smart manufacturing: synchronizing manufacturing operations and incorporating communication modules in manufactured products

High-value product remote monitoring module - a communication module is incorporated within high-value products and transmits the status of the product to the maintenance provider, enabling predictive maintenance

Peter Lacy, based in London, is Managing Director of Accenture Sustainability Services--Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

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5 Comments

  • Mike Alvarez

    has anyone had any experience with long-distance business conferences via Second Life? It's a pretty radical change from getting on a plane and meeting associates in Japan or London. You meet up in a virtual world with an avatar modeled after yourself. It's a more intimate way of conferencing. Although it does take time to learn the program and create your avatar. Within Second Life, you and your coworkers can choose any destination to meet up at, browse an art gallery or go shopping together at a camera shop for instance. It's pretty wild.

  • Matthew Kiem

    Oh God. sorry for the multiple posting. Slow connection and frustrated clicking. Could do with some improved ICT in Australia.

  • Matthew Kiem

    While these do sound like potential opportunities to reduce our environmental impact, it's also important to keep in mind what Richard Walker describes as the 'stubborn persistence of things'. Our economies are always grounded on the exchange of material products that must be extracted, refined, manufactured, transported, sold, used and made waste, so it pays not to get too giddy about 'service economies', 'information economies' and virtualisation, all of which are elements of a bigger picture of production and waste. Its great to hear how ICT can make difference, but pretty useless if it is considered in isolation and is not placed in the context of the continued emphasis on production and growth that has little to do with sustaining what can actually be sustained. The change from analogue to digital is really peanuts compared to the real challenge of creating economies, systems and cultures that treat production in terms of what is required for sustainment rather than what is required for growth.

  • Matthew Kiem

    While these do sound like potential opportunities to reduce our environmental impact, it's also important to keep in mind what Richard Walker describes as the 'stubborn persistence of things'. Our economies are always grounded on the exchange of material products that must be extracted, refined, manufactured, transported, sold, used and made waste, so it pays not to get too giddy about 'service economies', 'information economies' and virtualisation, all of which are elements of a bigger picture of production and waste. Its great to hear how ICT can make difference, but pretty useless if it is considered in isolation and is not placed in the context of the continued emphasis on production and growth that has little to do with sustaining what can actually be sustained. The change from analogue to digital is really peanuts compared to the real challenge of creating economies and systems that treat production in terms of what is required for sustainment rather than what is required for growth.

  • Matthew Kiem

    While these do sound like potential opportunities to reduce our environmental impact, it's also important to keep in mind what Richard Walker describes as the 'stubborn persistence of things'. Our economies are always grounded on the exchange of material products that must be extracted, refined, manufactured, transported, sold, used and made waste, so it pays not to get too giddy about 'service economies', 'information economies' and virtualisation, all of which are elements of a bigger picture of production and waste. Its great to hear how ICT can make difference, but pretty useless if it is considered in isolation and is not placed in the context of the continued emphasis on production and growth that has little to do with sustaining what can actually be sustained. The change from analogue to digital is really peanuts compared to the real challenge of creating economies and systems that treat production in terms of what is required for sustainment rather than what is required for growth.