Connectivity-based Tech to Address Climate Change, Global Warming, Material Consumption

By: Lee Rickwood

February 17, 2023

Most Canadians are not only climate-aware, they’re also re-assessing their personal technology choices in a world threatened by material consumption and its contributions to global warming.

At the same time, many tech adopters believe new connectivity-based solutions can help address the impacts of climate change and global warming. We’re worried about where it has gotten us so far, but technological innovation is seen as key to handling future challenges caused by climate disruption.

Those are among the findings in a illuminating report from multinational networking technology company Ericsson; its 10 Hot Consumer Trends: Life in a Climate-Impacted Future Report highlights key insights on how early  adopters, including Canadian respondents, are using technology.

It seems clear, as many believe, that the world will pass the theoretical threshold set by many international agreements of 1.5 C degrees of global warming (above pre-industrial rates); beyond that limit, we’ll suffer more extreme weather events and negative climate consequences.

Anticipating those ever-greater impacts, some see tech as bringing large-scale collective behavioural changes to our daily lives – such as how and when we work.

Ericsson’s research pointed to continued changes to our long-standing nine-to-five workday schedules and routines, for example, as technology enables certain workers to move away from ‘clock time’, and towards a timeline organized around energy use peaks and troughs.

The report identifies a trend to No-Rush Mobility, and the idea that some work-life activities can be rescheduled to conserve power use and reduce carbon emissions.  Strict schedules will give way to greater flexibility and energy efficiency. About 68 percent of respondents say they would plan their activities based on energy cost, not time, with the right tools available.

The idea builds on ‘time-of-use’ energy billing that many consumers are familiar with already: we use more or less power at certain times of day, week and year – and the price varies accordingly. Smart meters were part of the early technology platform supporting this TOU billing strategy.

Even more capable power management tools and activity scheduling assistants that make use of artificial intelligence will be used to plan daily commutes, schedule and coordinate supply chain deliveries and plan for individual and business resource usage in a way that minimizes the costs of our collective carbon footprint.

In fact, energy use may become a currency itself in coming years, respondents to the survey said. They anticipate we’ll be able to pay for goods and services in kilowatts or kilowatt hours (be they self-generated or resold) using smart apps and personalized metering systems.

We’ll need smart power in the future, and we’ll need smart water, survey respondents anticipate.

“Water use could also change dramatically, if rationing becomes much more widespread than today”, points out report co-author Sara Thorson, Head of Concept Development with Ericsson’s ConsumerLab. Although water rationing exists today, it could become much more common in the next decade, the report indicates. “Some sixty four percent of early adopters foresee digitally regulated monthly water allowances for all citizens by the 2030s”, Thorson said.

Almost half of urban early adopters say their household will use smart water catchers on roofs, balconies and windows that intelligently open when it is raining to catch and clean rainwater.

Over half also say it is likely that there will be a market for mobile apps that let consumers sell their water allowance to the highest bidder. On the other hand, more than half the respondents anticipate that new online apps will enable hackers to tap into a neighbours’ water or electricity supply illegally.

If we have smart meters and smart water, we should have smart shoppers, too.

Even if enabled by artificial intelligence.

Respondents to the Ericsson survey said they expect AI to influence consumer behaviour and help shoppers reduce the impacts of their material consumption by using digital.

Digital alternatives to physical products can become status markers as physical over-consumption gets more expensive and environmentally costly. The ‘dematerialization’ of our consumer culture could accelerate as one-third of urban early adopters believe they will personally use shopping apps that suggest digital alternatives to physical products.

e-Books, online courses, media files, printable patterns, mobile and desktop applications and more are familiar digital products today; many more are anticipated as the metaverse, Web3 applications, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and phygital commerce become more widely used.

Phygital retail, the integration of physical and digital elements in the shopping experience, is being driven by tech developments in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), integrated with machine learning and AI algorithms.

Beyond physical products, physical mobility may also be digitized. Having to go to the gym in bad weather may not be an environmentally good idea if consumers could just as well work out from home. Around 77 percent of urban early adopters believe using AR/VR glasses to attend fitness classes from anywhere will be possible in the 2030s.

Ericsson’s January 2023 Hot Consumer Trends Report marks the twelfth edition of the publication, which this year outlines consumers’ concerns, expectations and personal technology actions related to climate issues in 2030.

More than 15,000 early adopters of AR, VR and digital assistants in 30 cities globally (including Toronto and Vancouver) were surveyed.


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