The first, second and third industrial revolutions all forged paths for momentous progress, driven by human ingenuity in manufacturing, science and technology.
The unintended consequences, however, were that each revolution became markedly more detrimental to our planet, and, in many cases, people and their communities.
The clock is running down to the point of no return as emissions continue to rise and we witness the devastating effects of climate change on a global scale. A recent study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gave us just 12 years to limit global warming to moderate levels.
The fourth industrial revolution is underway. But if we fail to accelerate sustainable production for our planet, people and communities, we may not witness a fifth industrial revolution at all.
There can be little doubt that for a sustainable industrial revolution to take hold, businesses, governments and consumers need to come together. Here, the tech industry can help make a difference.
While lifestyle changes may be part of the solution, we cannot underestimate the impact of new technologies enabling businesses to operate in more efficient – and more sustainable – ways.
A large-scale change requires complete disruption, and there’s no better place to start than with the global manufacturing sector, which accounts for more than one in three global jobs and 30 per cent of UK GDP. It is also responsible for a third of greenhouse emissions but these can be significantly reduced by using new technologies.
Take this example: you’re an automotive manufacturer and you need a specific hubcap for your vehicle, but it’s sitting in a factory in Asia. Instead of it taking six weeks to ship, contributing towards emissions along the way, wouldn’t it just be easier to use 3D printing technology to print out the part, on-demand, in your plant?
If this kind of change were adopted by all businesses, it could reduce CO2 emissions by 130m tonnes by 2025. That is what acute, meaningful change can look like.
We won’t see that kind of widespread progress across industries, however, unless businesses embrace these new technologies. And the first step of that is education: developing new talent for the future.
According to the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. Businesses are going to require a dramatic reskilling of existing workforces, and confronting that challenge needs to start now.
Governments can support this progress both by reconsidering the education system and through policies like tax incentives and grants for businesses to reduce the cost and risk of adopting new technology and help them to retrain their workforces.
Finally, we need collaboration, between industry, government, and educators.
We know that young people today are more concerned about the sustainability of the planet than ever before, with thousands of students and school pupils taking part in the climate strike just last week.
And we know that businesses hold the key to solving some of these challenges. With the support of strong government frameworks, we can put these elements together for the good of everyone.
The end ambition should be companies, governments, institutions and citizens working together so that new technologies can be embraced at an affordable cost
The world has changed, and we must change with it. Only then will we be able to realise the amazing opportunities that the fourth industrial revolution offers.