Digitalization – A Resource Curse or Progress for People and the Environment?

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Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Big Data – never before has a technological development woven itself into our day-to-day lives as quickly and as deeply as digitalization has. At the same time, climate change and a growing number of social injustices are forcing us to scrutinize the way we do business from the ground up. Is digitalization in danger of exacerbating environmental degradation and social division in the way the German Federal Government’s Environmental Advisory Board warned us about back in the spring? Or is it actually a real opportunity for sustainability and a fair future? In my opinion, it’s the latter.

Of course, that doesn’t automatically make digitalization an advancement towards curbing environmental degradation and promoting social cohesion. Rather, politicians and companies have to face up to the challenge of making new technological opportunities usable for global sustainable development in the coming years. This starts with curbing the consumption of resources and energy accelerated by digitalization so as to keep the negative impact on our environment as low as possible. It’s equally important to counteract the growing social gap around the world by using new technology to provide people with access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and energy. On top of that, people themselves cannot be left behind – regardless of whether advances in automation radically restructure the labor market or if people’s professional futures are decided by algorithms.

Dell Technologies is well aware of its responsibilities towards people and the environment. We have set ourselves ambitious targets to meet by 2030 as part of the new CSR program Progress Made Real. The program focuses on three key areas: promoting sustainability within our organization to protect our planet together with our customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders, cultivating an inclusive culture to give people who fall through the cracks of traditional systems an opportunity, and improving quality of life with the help of technology.

A nice example of this is our solar-powered Learning Labs, which we develop in collaboration with Computer Aid International. Shipping containers are fitted with Dell Wyse Thin clients and an air-cooled PowerEdge server to convert them into mobile classrooms, while solar panels provide electricity. These mobile classrooms enable people to receive an education, even in the planet’s most remote regions. The first Lab was opened in 2014 and there are now 20 of these school containers in South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, Mexico, and Colombia. This number is expected to reach 100 by 2030.

The targets Dell Technologies has set for itself also include more diversity and equal opportunities: discrimination remains a ubiquitous presence in everyday life. If people are honest, each and every one of us thinks in stereotypes from time to time. But as a company, it is our duty to actively change this way of thinking. We drive forward various projects that promote non-traditional ways of recruiting staff, for example. I’m convinced that in the future, technologies such as Artificial Intelligence will mean we’ll be able to identify each individual person’s unique skills. For example, companies will rely on AI to reduce human prejudice in the recruitment process, manage the formation of the best teams in the workplace, and stimulate increases in productivity, morale, and staff retention.

Protecting our environment and using resources sustainably are also a duty for an IT group in particular. As part of Progress Made Real, we want an equivalent “old” device to be recycled for every new product that a customer purchases from us by 2030. Plus, more than half of all product components will be made from recycled or renewable materials. We’ve already achieved a great deal: some 900 million kilograms of used electronic parts have already been recovered through programs such as Dell Reconnect and Asset Resale and Recycling Services. Over 45 million of recycled components, plastics, and other materials have been reused in new Dell Technologies products.

But these are just a few examples. The fact of the matter is that a sustainable and integrative business model that is becoming of its name has never been as important as it is today. Yes, we’ve made significant progress in terms of protecting the environment and making local and global communities stronger, but we’re still a long way off our target and there’s still a lot of work ahead. But if we use technology sensibly, it can make a vital contribution to improving sustainable developments.

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