We have heard a lot about sustainability, but what is it, really? The current definition of sustainability in the Oxford English Dictionary is “The property of being environmentally sustainable; the degree to which a process or enterprise is able to be maintained or continued while avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources.” This is a complex concept, and there are three aspects worth talking about.
First, the impact. In simplest terms, sustainability is about our children and our grandchildren, and the world we will leave them.1 We often talk about the environment as if it were a separate thing, but the reason it matters is because we all share it. In actuality, it’s hard to imagine a more important impact. And as engineers, isn’t that the point of why we make technology?—to make the world a better place. Perhaps this sounds naïve, but only if we don’t consider the following two aspects.
Next, the scope. Certainly, the scope is global. We can improve our local environment, but to truly make the world a better place, we must think and operate globally. This means we can develop our technology in a way that transcends national boundaries and politics, but still operates within the value structures that we have as a society. As engineers, we want our technology to be used globally and this means understanding the business, not just the technology.
Which leads to the last aspect, balance. Sustainability implies achieving a balance between the environment, social equity, and the economy.1 We live in a world where our technology creates value, but only if people have access to it. And from an economic perspective, the reality is that consumer buying patterns are changing, and in fact, any product seen as “green” can charge a value premium above equivalent “nongreen” products. Food is one example, and companies like Whole Foods are built to capitalize on the green premium. But it’s not stopping there. Sustainability can add to the value that our technology can create, and cars, semiconductors, and software are next.
SEMICONDUCTORS AND SOFTWARE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER BEFORE
The role of semiconductors in our lives is becoming very well known. The COVID-19 pandemic shocked many industries around the world, and now, as the world emerges beyond the pandemic, we see a sharp ramp-up in consumer demand spanning from consumer to automotive and beyond. Supplies are tight, costs are going up, and markets are volatile. The semiconductor industry is on a major rebound growing at 26% year over year, now passing more than $600B of yearly revenue.2 That's nearly $100 per year for every person on Earth.