Can a technology that improves business efficiency also help save the planet?

Alice Steenland, CSO, Dassault Systèmes

24 June 2021

2 min read

Like most people who work in the sustainability field, I’m deeply concerned about our planet right now. To preserve life as we know it, we have less than 10 years to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, requiring that we radically change the way we consume and produce just about everything. How will we do it?

We hear a lot about the role technology will play in accelerating the sustainability transformation. I believe that virtual twin experiences, in particular, will play a central role.

These powerful, sophisticated, science-based computer models and simulations allow companies to imagine, design, test and manufacture radically new materials, products and services for tomorrow’s sustainable economy. Known generically as digital twins, they have been used for nearly two decades to create our cars, airplanes, consumer goods, electronics, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, ships, satellites, clothes – almost anything you can think of. They have saved companies massive amounts of time and money, facilitated innovation and raised quality.

Virtual twins with embedded LCA capabilities can almost instantly calculate the impact on sustainability, cost, time to market and a host of other critical measures.”

For decades, they’ve also helped us do more with less. Think of bottles designed to provide all the benefits a bottle should, but with just half as much material. Or trucks optimized for aerodynamics that double freight efficiency today – and lay the groundwork for a fully electric future.  

With breakthroughs like these, the link between virtual twin experiences and sustainability should have been clear all along. Unfortunately product design and sustainability people rarely cross paths. Still, it was only a matter of time until someone recognized the synergies.

Virtual twins’ sustainability value

To quantify the potential, we asked Accenture to investigate the benefits of applying virtual twins to sustainability. How much upside did it have?

Accenture studied the economic and environmental benefits from just five narrowly defined use cases, estimating US$1.3 trillion of economic benefit and 7.5 gigatons of CO2e reductions by 2030. Multiply those numbers by hundreds of thousands of use cases, and you get a sense of just how powerful this intersection can be.

To maximize the potential, however, we must make it easier for every designer, engineer, and manufacturing expert to make sustainable choices via virtual twins. The Earth doesn’t have time for all of these people to become experts in sustainable design. Instead, we must build the knowledge and know-how into their virtual twin software, empowering it to guide them in making those decisions – in seconds – as they work.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is a sustainability discipline for estimating the environmental impacts of business operations, from manufacturing to logistics. Unfortunately, it exists separate from day-to-day business activity, so it is used primarily to look back at what a business has already done and measure the impacts, with hopes of reducing those impacts in the future.

Multiplying value with LCA

If we embed LCA into virtual twin experiences, however, as Dassault Systèmes is planning to do, every user can see the impacts of different choices as they make them. As they ideate and test models, develop new materials, simulate production and logistics – including how parts will be sourced and finished goods distributed – virtual twin experiences with embedded LCA capabilities can almost instantly calculate the impact of those choices on sustainability, cost, time to market and a host of other critical measures. This makes every employee – not just a company’s sustainability team – a valuable actor in the sustainability revolution.

So, if you’re a sustainability person, get to know your engineering and digital innovation teams. If you’re an engineer who creates virtual twins, engage with your sustainability advocates. Merge your expertise to identify where your combined knowledge can make the biggest impact in your industry and in your company.

Humanity’s need is urgent, and time is short. Applying virtual twin technology to sustainability won’t solve the entire greenhouse-gas challenge, but it is certainly a powerful element in our sustainable technology toolkit today.

To discover how virtual twins support sustainability, read the Accenture white paper.

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