Time to upgrade: Building an operating system fit for the future

While thousands of us begin downloading the new iOS 10 operating system for our iPhones today, it is society itself that is urgent need of an upgrade if we are serious about evolving into a low-carbon, resource-efficient world.

Time to upgrade: Building an operating system fit for the future

So says BT’s chief sustainability officer Niall Dunne, who penned a great new blog for edie this week.

“The scale and nature of these [climate] challenges demands new thinking, bigger thinking, innovation that disrupts existing disruptive innovation,” Dunne wrote. “It requires us to build a generation of better creators, not just better users of technology.”

He’s spot on. Last week, the UK’s new Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark made a similar point; insisting that the nation’s businesses, infrastructure and cities will all need to adopt an iPhone-esque upgrade philosophy in order to ensure they are “fit for the future”.

The circular economy is a case in point. Recycle Week 2016 is currently in full swing, and every day this week we have reported on a survey, study or initiative that calls for an urgent upgrade in Britain’s waste and resource management practices and regulatory frameworks.

The same goes for our energy system. Just yesterday, a new report from the World Energy Council called for a complete overhaul of financing mechanisms and policy frameworks to develop “smarter and stronger” energy markets facing the “unprecedented strains” of climate change. 

In our cities, too, we are seeing this battle between old and new play out in front of us. London was this week ranked the fifth most sustainable city in the world in the 2016 Sustainable Cities Index from infrastructure consultancy firm Arcadis, thanks to its numerous parks and green spaces. But less than a month ago, new data revealed that many of those parks are now exceeding air pollution limits, with policymakers seemingly refusing to take the bold action that is required in order to cut the 40,000 early deaths caused by toxic air in towns and cities across the country.

So what of our businesses? Of course, there are some firms that continue to lead the way on sustainability. ‘Familiar faces’ was an apt title for our lead story this week, which analysed the latest Dow Jones Sustainability Index – no prizes for guessing which companies topped each sector in that list. But what is perhaps most exciting here is the increasing willingness of those organisations, and others, to embrace change and upgrade their operational efficiencies, product development and resource management processes in the name of green business.

Which brings us back to Apple. For years, the Silicon Valley tech giant was heavily criticised by green groups; appearing near the bottom of Greenpeace’s ranking of ‘green electronics’ for its refusal to disclose the carbon footprint or environmental impact of its iPhones, iPads, iPods and MacBooks.

Now, the company is seen as something of a leader in the sustainable business space; receiving top marks for its climate action. An increasing use of renewable energy, a genuine support for national green policies, and a willingness to distance itself from controversial trade associations recently saw Apple top a list of more than 150 companies – including rivals Microsoft and Google – compiled by sustainability analysts InfluenceMap.

So an industrial sustainability upgrade is possible, and a lower-carbon, more resource-efficient operating system is there for governments, businesses and consumers to see. It’s really just a case of how eager everyone is to download it, and how proactive we are in encouraging others to follow suit.

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