It is time to talk about sustainable manufacturing—and how technology such as AI (artificial intelligence) can help enable it. We need to talk about what we are going to do to start up the processes again, how we are going to teach companies to design first, and how everything is going to have to work together for transformation.

Let’s start today by talking about innovation—and how the right technologies can lead us to greater sustainable manufacturing. Let’s begin talking about an example coming out of Purdue University. Schweta Singh, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, and her team have developed a new method for automated creation of physical input-output tables to track flows in manufacturing networks.

AI, of course, has a big role here, as algorithms in this bottom-up modular model help to map resource flows with enhanced accuracy and reliability as data can be reconciled based on mechanistic models through this approach.

The cloud-based platform is aimed at mapping inter-industry dependence networks for materials and waste generation among manufacturers in sectors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other industries tied to biobased economies. The technology helps meet a manufacturing target that can help determine economic and environmental outcomes for various manufacturing pathways based on material requirements.

This is an impressive illustration of innovation for two reasons. For one, we are using our technology for good. As I say, “With great technology comes great responsibility,” and this is a paragon of how technology can help enable sustainable manufacturing. But there is another point to this story that I appreciate. It demonstrates how innovators are rising up to find solutions to long-lasting problems.

Let me give you another illustration that is worth noting. Many are familiar with Greta Thunberg and her work for climate change, but she is just one in a long line of young innovators who are looking to make a difference. Case in point: Gitanjoli Rao, who was named Time’s 2020 Kid of the Year. Born in November 2005, she is an inventor, author, and scientist, with a passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). She has developed a number of technologies including Tethys, which is a carbon nanotube-based sensor device to detect lead contamination in water. These young innovators represent our future.

In my book, Sustainable in a Circular World, I discuss the importance of why it is critical that we equip the younger generation with the tools they need as well as work together, generation with generation. It is a conversation I recently engaged in with Çağlayan Arkan, vice president, manufacturing industry, Microsoft, on The Peggy Smedley Show, about reskilling and upskilling the manufacturing industry as well as Walid Ali, AI, manufacturing, Microsoft. We need to empower the next generation of skilled workers to both build up the industry and develop the technologies we so desperately need for sustainable manufacturing.

I have so many thoughts on this in my book, but I believe even, more importantly, is what lies ahead, for us all in the next decade, will prove to be a turning point in bringing the changes to the world for ushering like-mindedness and forging new pathways to addressing environmental changes through a common sustainable and circular economy.

In the coming weeks we will dive more into this topic including addressing whether our cities are in compliance, how do we change our buildings and our urban cities, energy, and so much more. It is a big topic. We will be digging in each week. If you have thoughts, please share them. Together we can make a cleaner tomorrow.

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