How Information Technology Will Enable a Sustainable Future

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How Information Technology Will Enable a Sustainable Future

Post by guest contributor Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute.

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Dr. Andrew Steer is the President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization that works in more than 50 countries. Dr. Steer joined WRI from the World Bank, where he served as Special Envoy for Climate Change and as Director General at the UK Department of International Development (DFID) in London. He is a Global Agenda Trustee for the World Economic Forum. Learn more at 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - 8:15am

Two recent developments offer great hope for the future.

For the first time ever, all the countries in the world have agreed on global goals (to 2030) that apply to rich and poor alike. In September 2015, world leaders adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a vision that all people have a good quality of life—free of hunger, poverty, and injustice—while our environment thrives. The SDGs have a set of 169 targets, most of which are measurable.

Second, thanks to massive advances in information technology, we can now measure important things much more accurately in real time—in turn creating an ability to react quickly to problems, and an accountability for delivering on commitments made.

Take forests, for example. One of the SDG targets is to eliminate deforestation and restore degraded land. But how to measure what is happening? As recently as five years ago this would have required referring to a thick book of statistics, often several years out of date. Now, real time data is available at a resolution of one-fifth of an acre to anybody with a smartphone or laptop anywhere—all for free! This all thanks to billions of data points provided by satellites each day, massive gains in cloud computing, and incredible progress in communications and visualization technology. This is all provided by Global Forest Watch , a partnership between the World Resources Institute (WRI) and a number of leading technology companies, research institutions and national governments.

New technology is also helping us increase the efficiency of buildings and build smarter, lower-carbon, higher-functioning cities. Data platforms like our Aqueduct water risk model are helping business leaders and countries measure and monitor environmental risks and track progress.

At WRI we focus on six urgent global challenges: climate, water, forests, food, energy, and cities. In each of these IT is facilitating better data collection and analysis, heightened transparency, better communication and ultimately better decisions—all critical to WRI’s moto: count it, change it, scale it. From satellite images of coral reefs to crowd-sourced data on urban traffic congestion, our ability to make decisions based on increasingly better information points to tremendous potential for sustainability gains.

It is a pleasure for us to partner with HPE in a number of important initiatives, including exploring the intersection of Smart Cities and the Internet of Things, and helping shape HPE’s science-based target. It’s only by tapping the ingenuity and excitement of those within the IT sector that we can address existential threats like climate change while increasing standards of living for billions now living in poverty. For this reason, we see companies like HPE at the very forefront of solving today’s most difficult challenges.

Your sector is also critical to helping emerging economies “leapfrog” over the unsustainable technologies and systems that were the backbone of Western development for decades. It is also important that your informed, progressive voice is heard loud and clear in policy discussions around critical issues such as climate change.

Please continue this good work. The stakes are high, and the time is short.

Keywords: Technology | Business & Trade | Corporate Social Responsibility | Dr. Andrew Steer | Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) | IT | UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) | World Resources Institute (WRI) | global forest watch | information technology