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Interview with Lee Stewart from Fujitsu about the Australian #SMARTer2030 report

Lee Stewart | January 31, 2017

Fujitsu and Telstra presented in December last year the SMARTer2030 Report: Australian Opportunity for ICT Enabled Emission Reductions. Based on the #SMARTer2030 report, the study is showing that ICT can support the Australian Government to surpass its carbon reduction target. We spoke to Lee Stewart, Head of Sustainability in the Oceania region at Fujitsu.

Q: First of all, congratulations on the Australian SMARTer2030 report. It shows great opportunities for the ICT sector to tackle the sustainability challenges Australia is facing. We learn that ICT has the potential to reduce carbon emission in Australia by 188 million tons a year by 2030. What are the most promising sectors in terms of potential reductions?

Thank you! Like the SMARTer2030 report, we looked at eight sectors: health, education, manufacturing, energy, agriculture, transport, buildings, work and business.  Agriculture is certainly the sector with the biggest opportunity, with the report showing an opportunity of 60 Mt CO2e.  Australia is a dry country that’s been challenged by drought conditions in many growing areas, so farmers are looking for ways to increase efficiency and resilience.  Many of our farmers live in territory that’s very remote so there’s a unique challenge there – how does ICT apply when you have 14,000 head of cattle on a property the size of Rwanda?   Smart Agriculture solutions – such as sensor-based field equipment, data analytics, big data and traceability and tracking systems – can increase yields, as well as reducing input resources like water, which will help protect the agricultural sector against changing environmental conditions.  Given the sector represents AUD$53 billion to our economy annually, the size of the opportunity and the difference to society it can make, is really exciting. 

Most of Australia lives in urban centers so the opportunity of ICT in the built environment with connected grids and smart buildings is significant - taken together it represents more than 50 Mt CO2e.  There’s also more than AUD$25 billion we can save in avoided infrastructure, energy and water.  At the same time we anticipate the growth of new services in the economy, like IoT monitoring for buildings for instance.  Some of these things we’re starting to see with new 6-star Green buildings with automated response to weather conditions going up in cities, and we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the consumer either – I think a lot of the change will be driven at the household level. Australia is famous for its sun and Australians have been keen to embrace renewables - one in five homes has a rooftop solar array and there are now more solar panels that people – so as energy production gets more distributed there’s a huge opportunity for ICT to put the householder in control.

Q: In addition to its environmental contribution, ICT can deliver important social benefits by improving access to essential services such as education, healthcare, and banking. Are there areas or needs of particular interest in Australia, when it comes to these services?

Absolutely.  Australia is vast and people in remote and rural communities have issues accessing services like education and healthcare on the same level as people in urban centers.  Australia’s government is investing in a National Broadband Network which will bring high speed internet to these communities as well as urban areas, so we anticipate a big growth in new services as this gets rolled out over the next few years.  Smart phone penetration is over 90% so the groundwork is right.  By 2030 we think that over 415,000 degrees will be delivered online in Australia, which will have substantial flow-on benefits to innovation and the economy. 

In terms of the health sector, there’s opportunity to expand medical consultations via video conferencing or smart phone where a patient can be seen be a specialist in a city without having to leave their town and travel long distances.  There’s opportunity for connecting rural doctors to their urban counterparts too, giving them a chance to observe consultations or procedures remotely.  Like most of the developed world Australia’s population is ageing so the opportunity to use ICT to harmonise healthcare treatments across providers, and improve resource use, is going to be critical in the future.  Hospital beds are limited resources so if we can avoid and reduce hospital stays that’s in the interests of both the patient and the government. There’s also great prospects with wearable devices which will provide new ways for people to monitor their own health and give new information to doctors in real time.

An interesting example was when Fujitsu and ADTEC partnered to set up webcams in the neonatal ward, so parents could securely and remotely monitor their babies. This reduced travel, which had a sustainability benefit, and was also used for outreach training. When I was presenting this report to a government ministry I talked about this project, and coincidentally one of the attendees had had a premature baby on that ward and had used this technology.  It was a really moving experience when she spoke – naturally she had many concerned family members and she was able to provide them with their own login which enabled her to focus on caring for her newborn son, so it was a huge reliever of her stress in a very tough situation.  You can’t really put a price on those sorts of things – to know that your technology has helped a family in a really difficult time in their lives is an amazing feeling and makes me proud to work in this exciting area.

Q: The GeSI SMARTer2030 as well as this report underlines that, if the digital revolution is to fully happen, action will be needed not only from the ICT industry but also from governments, business and consumers. How does this apply to the Australian case?

Awareness is key.  Some people are aware of what ICT can bring to the table, but we really need to call it out and put a focus on it and that’s why the report has been done and why it’s so important.  When we are going out and briefing people in government and business what we find is that they understand the technology is happening today but they don’t really have sight of the benefits, particularly on the scale that we are talking about.  With full deployment of ICT that exists now, Australia can meet its INDC targets by 2030. That’s huge.

In the Australian case particularly we need to be brave and be prepared to try new things.  We worked with Telstra and Qantas on a project where they replaced hard copy flight manuals, which were 20kg each, with tablets.  Initially there were lots of reasons why it couldn’t be done but Qantas really understood the payoff and we persevered.  Qantas has calculated that the reduced weight and ensuing fuel efficiency enabled by ICT is saving $AUD1.5 million annually in jet fuel.  That’s going to be the case in any project, not just in Australia – there will always be obstacles.  The key things then is to understand the opportunity – for the environment and commercially, to use a technology lens when we view problems, and not to be afraid to try new things. 

Q: This report shows the value of a collaborative approach joining forces at industry level. What are the key points to a successful cooperation and what is for you the most appreciated aspect of a platform such GeSI for this kind of work?

GeSI is a global origination with recognizable brands that have strong reputations. Fujitsu and Telstra are competitors and without the umbrella that GeSI provides this collaboration would probably never have happened.  Certainly that access to the research and data that the Australian report draws on wouldn’t have happened. 

I do find that in Australia the sustainability teams, even in organisations that are competitors, collaborate very openly and honestly, because of that sense of common purpose.  Everyone has the big picture in mind and knows what is at stake; so when competitors come together in that spirit, only good things can happen.  In this case both Fujitsu and Telstra have got good contacts in government and industry and by joining forces we are able to take the reports’ message about the potential of ICT to an audience that we wouldn’t have been able to reach individually. 

Q: Fujitsu and Telstra have worked with GeSI in 2016 to promote the SMARTer2030 in Australia, and participation in the 4th Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit is being discussed. What other plans do you have for the dissemination of the report’s results, and what events should we keep an eye on in the coming months?

Fujitsu and Telstra have a continuing program of ministerial briefings, talking to government representatives at state and federal levels not only in environment portfolios but also in the sectors like agriculture, health, the build environment, and innovation.  2017 sees the Australian government reviewing its emissions targets and we’d like to see recognition of the opportunities ICT presents in that review.  We’ve also been getting out and about in local media – I recently did an interview on Sky News Business Channel about the report, which was good fun. 

Australia’s showcase event in this area is the Carbon Market Institute conference and we were pleased to have GeSI Chairman Luis Neves present last year.  The event, which was attended by over 450 delegates, hosted a world-class line-up of speakers from Australian and global policy leaders, heads of business and carbon market innovators, on the current state of play, and the transition to a low carbon economy.  This year we’ll be running some targeted workshops and sector briefings and are keen to have Luis return and present updates on what’s happening globally and the links between the report and the Sustainable Development Goals.  We are finding locally that large corporations are getting more and more interested in the SDGs and we’re keen to show how ICT can help achieve them.

Fujitsu and Telstra have done something special with this report that has the potential to unlock new economic, social and environmental benefits for Australia.  It’s vital to get this message on the power of ICT out to the decision makers and to society – I’d love to see the region become a hotbed of innovation that can be used to deliver a prosperous and sustainable future for everyone. 

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