Our Digital World Can Deliver a Greener Industrial Future

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The globalization of manufacturing has transformed some of the world’s poorest nations to unprecedented levels of economic prosperity. But the resulting increase in poorly controlled emissions and eco-degradation has caused unsustainable levels of local air and water pollution, destabilizing the climate and threatening biodiversity.

Just as the vast development of technology hastened this cycle of boom and doom, it can also help break it. Automated environmental monitoring, electronic reporting and web-based disclosure systems now available in the digital age create the possibility of new levels of accountability for environmental performance. Technology allows the public to scrutinize factory pollution problems, governments to make more efficient enforcement efforts and companies to hold their supply chains to account. To check pressing industrial pollution, for example, corporations in China have been driven to install automated online monitoring and report their emission data to the public in real time.

These kinds of innovations are having a real impact in China, the manufacturing “factory of the world.” The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs’ interactive Blue Map Database gathers private- and public-sector data to collate critical environmental performance information, monitoring and recording air and water pollution as it is happening. Many factories have begun self-reporting carbon emissions into the database as well. Hundreds of local and multinational corporations now make routine use of the database for remote supplier oversight, receiving push notifications the instant a violation occurs.

Applying digital solutions to environmental problems has delivered new levels of accountability for industrial pollution in China, with more than 10,000 factories rectifying problems and more than 20,000 electing to participate in these improved oversight programs to give their clients and customers peace of mind.

China is becoming more informed and more open with its environmental data. That should give us great hope that our electronically connected world can deliver a greener industrial future.

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