Digitally advanced countries are more innovative, competitive and greener

Skills will be critical if we are to fully realise the opportunities of transitioning to the green economy.

European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager was recently asked if Europe’s digital aspirations are still on track. She replied: “if anything, they’ll be accelerated. Neither the digital transition nor fighting climate change can stop.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

Microsoft’s Digital Futures Index, an analysis of digital progress in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), found a staggering range of correlations with sustainability and digitisation. More digitally advanced countries are more innovative, competitive and greener

Investment in digital technology and the digital skills of the general population have the strongest links to environmental outcomes, according to the index. It’s also noteworthy that government policy which makes it easy to set up and run digital platforms to provide services to citizens is very strongly associated with how well a country rates on sustainability performance.  

It underscores the importance of twinning digitisation and green strategies as part of national recovery and growth initiatives.  

Across CEE we are seeing accelerated cloud adoption by business and the public sector at scale. This shift to the “public cloud” is helping significantly drive down emissions from IT operations, reducing energy consumption by as much as 93 per cent.

And with major cloud platform companies such as Microsoft switching data centres to renewable power sources, digital technology itself is becoming greener. For example Public Power Corporation (PPC) from Greece has saved more than 160 MTCO2e since 2017 by utilising Azure cloud services compared to on-premise alternative.  

Most companies in the region face challenges in gathering carbon data and reporting. Boston Consulting Group found that just nine per cent could comprehensively measure their emissions. Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability was launched to help companies manage their sustainability goals through gathering information in real-time, improving carbon accounting and delivering actionable insights. Better quality data fuels action and faster progress. 

Good for the planet, good for business

What’s good for the planet is also good for business. By making operations more effective and efficient, firms can save money as they reduce their environmental impact. A great example is Hungary’s Organica Water, which is remotely monitoring and analysing data from across 120 plants to improve water quality while reducing energy usage by 30 per cent. Or Poland’s railways, where electricity supplier PKP Energetyka is using smart technology to reliably deliver renewable energy to power the train network, saving 800,000 tons of CO2 emissions to-date. 

Digital transformation is playing a critical role, but skills will be critical if we are to fully realise the opportunities of transitioning to the green economy. In practice, it means that the future workforce will be heavily reliant on people with strong scientific, engineering and technical expertise. Data scientists and those with the skills and know-how to design new processes and integrate advanced technologies such as AI and IoT to increase resource efficiency and climate resilience will be in especially high demand.  

CEE today has a strong talent base, and performs highly in terms of numbers ICT and STEM graduates. It’s vital that it continues to double down on investing in talent, and private-public partnership on education and skilling programmes will be key. 

This article first appeared in the Future of Emerging Europe Sustainability Report, published by Emerging Europe as part of the Future of Emerging Europe programme. You can download a free copy here.

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