Industry 4.0: Climate Revolution?
Forbes India|June 4, 2021
Augmenting sustainability alongside digital capabilities is an economic, competitive and global opportunity for India’s businesses, but regulations need to reflect intent
Ruchika Shah

The first industrial revolution created modern industry, embracing machines, assembly lines, and factories in order to maximize production efficiencies. The second, third, and now fourth revolutions have brought innovations to refine these tools—with present-day factories and companies using automated machinery and millions of sensors that output data points for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to crunch. Machines today can not only be taught the task at hand but can also be used to learn the best way to perform it. We have come a full circle.

Industrial revolutions have gone down in history as milestones of human progress. Strong and efficient industries led to robust economies, wealth creation, scientific and technology prowess, better education, as well as more opportunities to succeed. Today, the world was able to come up with not just one but multiple Covid-19 vaccines in record time.

A little-known by-product of the first industrial revolution was environmentalism. “It was the first time that people had started living in concentrated cities, and they were getting sick as they had never been before as industries contaminated the air and water,” explains Mike Rosenberg, author, Strategy and Sustainability, and professor of the Practice of Management in Strategic Management Department, IESE Business School.

Every industrial age has made companies more efficient, productive, and profitable. The impact of industries on our environment, however, has continued unabated.

The fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0—the process of digitisation of everything—has been underway for some time now. And as the world went indoors to stay safe, the Covid-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst for an accelerated shift to digital. Everything from AI-ML to robotic process automation, cloud computing, smart sensors, and interconnected machines are making our companies smarter and more efficient. But as millions of dollars are invested into new technologies and as companies look for ways to recoup losses for getting back on the path of growth, there is an economic, competitive, global opportunity for companies that will transition to become sustainable. This will mean assessing and investing in not only their financials and profits, but also in their workforce, environment, and community.

“The efficiencies brought about by Industry 4.0 will lead to very limited—about 5 to 10 percent—gain. Today every company has to find ways to expand or grow without increasing environmental impact. Industry 4.0 should be as much about technology as it should be about using sustainable solutions,” says Chaitanya Kalia, partner, Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader, EY India. And there are benefits of being an early adopter. “It’s like a cricket match, like T20 or a one-day international, if you don’t score your runs now, you have to score faster towards the end, and there’s a risk of losing. So, companies have to do it now, have to do more, and have to do it fast so that even the cost of doing everything is controlled.”

INDIA—LAND OF CLIMATE PARADOXES

The Covid-19 pandemic was a rude wake-up call for India and the world, however, “it is not even a fraction of what’s going to happen when the climate crisis hits us”, says Rahul Munjal, managing director, Hero Future Energies. To avert the next crises, many countries are taking to stricter environmental and socioeconomic regulations.

India’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the third highest in the world after China and the US. However, due to India being the second-most populous country, its per capita emissions—the figures often used by industry and government— are four times lower than China and over eight times lower than the US. “We’re not announcing legally binding [net zero] targets because our position is that our emissions divided by population are less compared to many other countries,” says Kalia.

Meanwhile, hesitant to stifle growth in a developing economy, many in the industry also opine that India is a poor country, and those who are imposing stringent environmental regulations are developed giants, rich enough to now start cleaning up their mess.

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