Report: Technology could cut cost of SDG delivery by 40%

That is the headline conclusion of a new report from the Force for Good initiative, which convenes financial institutions to collaborate on the deployment of capital for sustainable development. Members of the initiative include BlackRock, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group, among dozens of others.

The new report builds on an analysis conducted by the initiative last year into how the cost of delivering the SDGs had been pushed up by global shocks including the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine. The cost of delivery was priced, through that analysis, at $176trn. Costs had increased in areas relating to poverty alleviation, ending hunger, improving education and healthcare, delivering peace and reducing migration.

In the face of these new and evolving challenges, the new report looks at how technologies could be deployed to reduce the costs of SDG delivery in a manner that also paves the way for more inclusive global economies.

It concludes that the SDG delivery cost could be reduced by up to 20% – $30trn – simply by deploying existing technologies that enhance connectivity, including Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. These solutions can contribute to all manner of technologies, from monitoring farms and forests for sustainable management, to creating smart cities and better early warning systems for extreme weather events.

Force for Good interviewed 100 major tech companies for its report and found that almost two-thirds (64%) are pursuing initiatives in the IoT space.

Moreover, 57% are involved in developing and/or deploying smart grids, which would contribute to SDGs including Goal 7, affordable and clean energy for all.

Involvement in artificial intelligence (85%) and big data analytics (60%) was also found to be strong. AI has sustainable development-related applications including efficient energy management in buildings, optimising renewable energy generation arrays and energy storage and precision agriculture.

Emerging innovations

Force for Good also assessed the potential benefit of concerted work to deliver technology breakthroughs which are yet some years off, in fields including energy, materials, education and healthcare. There will also need to be changes in the ways financial systems are set up, to ensure capital flows support sustainable development and that people around the world can access financial services and support.

The conclusion is that further savings of up to $26trn on the cost of SDG delivery are possible, bringing the total savings potential up to $56trn.

For these savings to be realised, more tech industry players will need to collaborate in these fields. Force for Good’s research found that just 17 of the 100 businesses it interviewed are involved in material science, with medicine being another ‘niche’. While energy technologies are less niche, Force for Good’s research reveals a patchwork approach, with technology ‘winners’ for hard-to-abate sectors yet to be picked.

“These findings are a call to action to the technology sector, which – despite current headwinds – remains indispensable if the world is to achieve inclusive, sustainable growth for all,” said Force for Good advisory council member Jon Miller, former chair and chief executive of AOL.

“Successful businesses are already looking ahead to the next opportunity, especially in times of volatility and change.”

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