Alice Valvodova, Manager, Information and Communications Technology, BSR

A good friend from Sweden recently visited me in Paris, and she was surprised that she could not find a single taxi in this capital city that would accept electronic or credit card payment. This got me thinking about our dependence on physical products and processes, despite the major technological advancements of the 21st century.

Most of us have heard of a paperless office, where virtual alternatives greatly reduce the need for physical resources. Documents and information can simply be stored digitally. Not only does this kind of "dematerialization" make our professional lives more efficient, it also saves money, space, and most importantly, the environment. So why can’t we live in a paperless or dematerialized world?

The latest research, including GeSI’s SMARTer2020 report, clearly demonstrates the transformative potential of innovations in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry. According to the report, mainstreaming ICT solutions across the economy could reduce up to 16.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Examples of existing ICT solutions and services, including in the wireless industry, range from smart grids and energy-efficient buildings to intelligent transport applications, telecommuting, e-government, and e-health. These innovations can bring about large-scale efficiencies and greenhouse gas reductions for businesses and can encourage consumers to lead more sustainable lifestyles.

Yet while the potential of ICT solutions is clear and the technology exists, the problem seems to be one of scale and implementation. This problem was the subject of a BSR-organized panel at GreenBiz’s Convergence Paris in June, “How Big Data Is Driving Sustainability,” which featured presentations from BT and Nokia.

One key takeaway from the session was the importance of addressing the demand side of the problem. How do we get consumers to embrace ICT solutions and become part of the movement toward dematerialization? One interesting insight at Convergence was the need for companies to frame their marketing messages from a social rather than environmental perspective and to clearly demonstrate the direct benefits of sustainable options to individuals and their communities, rather than their effects on the planet at large. In other words, focus on the local rather than the global.

My co-panelists and I also discussed the supply side of the equation, and one important conclusion was the need for greater stakeholder collaboration and dialogue. Businesses from major opportunity areas, including energy, transportation, and buildings, need to work with the ICT industry to fast-forward the deployment of innovative ICT solutions.

In this context, BSR is well-placed to facilitate cross-sector dialogue and cooperation. For example, BSR is working with ICT companies and utility providers as part of our Future of Internet Power initiative to identify and publicize best practices around low-carbon power sourcing for data centers. Additionally, the BSR Conference 2013, which will take place this November in San Francisco, will address how we can harness the power of stakeholder and other networks to solve our biggest sustainability challenges. We look forward to continuing the discussion about how to deploy ICT solutions to help businesses and consumers live within the resource boundaries of our planet.