Digitalization, Decentralization, and Sustainability: Our Future Depends on it

3 min

– Article in partnership with Swiss Re  –

The world is changing, and we are not meant to be spectators. Climate change affects us closely, and increasing digitalization allows us to be an active part of the change. Let’s discover together how digitalization enables citizens to play a proactive role in sustainability.

Digitalization allows us to take action

While there is a tendency to regard “animosity” as a hostile feeling towards someone or something, in the past, it was synonymous with pride and bravery. As Niccolò Machiavelli observed in Il Principe, we should strive to be recognized for our “greatness, animosity, gravity, and fortitude” in each of our actions.

As I have come to discover, that same duality is evident in Westerners’ attitudes toward climate change. At the same time as we show righteous indignation towards those who would jeopardize the future of our planet, we are doing little more than striving to mitigate the damages of harmful emissions.

Until a few years ago, our only recourse was to take to the streets and protest, but we now have the power to adopt a more active role, through digitalization. By giving netizens a seat at the table in global discussions and providing knowledge resources to combat climate change as a collective, digitalization has allowed us to embrace sustainability.

Energy communities: a case in point

Whenever a group of citizens generates energy from renewable sources and then shares their excess, we are describing energy communities. To deconstruct this idea, let’s consider one of the easiest ways to become an energy producer. By installing solar panels on your rooftop and connecting them with IoT devices that measure the outgoing and incoming currents through compensatory credit charges, you can exploit blockchain for your transactions.

Notice that you are still a consumer in this scenario, but you are also a producer — hence the portmanteau, “prosumer”.


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Risk awareness increases social security

Now, I want to provide you with a clear example of how digitalization can increase social security by engaging citizens.

By combining data from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) with information from citizens on their property structures, I’m helping to industrialize a patent for a mobile device that can calculate the risk of a building’s collapse. Essentially, the system combines a building vulnerability index with a risk factor related to the area’s expected seismic events, as per INGV data. Through a mobile app — which uses AI to communicate verbally and increase accessibility — the citizen shares simple information about their building. In turn, the device auto-detects its location and immediately calculates the risk.

Towards a circular economy

In Northern Italy, there’s an organization with mixed public and private capital that is combining computer vision and data to auto-detect poorly sorted or undifferentiated waste at its source. Complementing this, citizens (through a computer system that uses IoT and mobile) can report any illegal landfills or identify the locations of ecological islands. More broadly, the app educates them on proper recycling practices and the impact their actions can have on the environment.

As a whole, the system marries technology with the public will to improve waste collection and promote the reuse of materials. Ultimately, it shifts from the linear economy — i.e., take, make, and dispose — towards a green circular economy based on the principles reduce, reuse, and recycle.

collective leadership for digitalization

Collective leadership for a sustainable future

But digital technologies promise an even more democratic level of civic engagement, i.e., a future where leadership is decentralized and involves citizens in strategic decision-making. I like to call it “collective leadership”, insofar as it harnesses digitalization to allow for direct democracy.

Currently, we are in the process of building the individual pieces of the puzzle, with digital identities, certified e-mail, and the adoption of blockchain for voting — which, with its immutability and transparency, allows us to inject security into the system.

History has shown us that the development of a nation is always dictated by the people, not their temporary leaders. By favoring a direct digital democracy, we could decentralize power and achieve a shared vision for the future of humanity and our planet.

I want to thank Swiss Re for inspiring this article by involving me in its “COP27: Race to Resilience”, initiative — which positions the company at the forefront of public-private collaborations that seek a more sustainable future. You can find my interview and related materials here.

 

  • Original article previously published here 

 

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