A new report by Dassault Systèmes and Accenture sheds light on how virtual twins, a design technology, can greatly disrupt the way we produce and consume goods to achieve much higher sustainability.
Virtual twins are a real-time virtual representation of a product, process or a system, which can be as complex as a whole city. They allow businesses and other stakeholders to design, test, and model disruptive sustainable products and processes in record time.
The study looked at five cases, from consumer packaged goods to construction and cities, where virtual twins can unlock $1.3 trillion in economic value and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5 Gt by 2030.
As the race to make our economic models more sustainable accelerates, this technology is poised to unlock transformative change in various areas of the economy.
Our current use of plastic illustrates that we have long ways to go before we can reach sustainable consumption, but the speed of change matters. From climate change to the conservation of freshwater sources, acting now rather than later is important to ensure we can repair environmental damage and preserve vital natural resources.
Greenhouse gas emissions would need to fall by around 8% every year between now and 2030 for the world to reach the goal of limiting temperature rise to close to 1.5° Celsius, as agreed by scientists and policy-makers in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Failing to meet this goal would trigger more severe climate change.
Furthermore, the United Nations (UN) has warned that by 2025, 1.8 billion people could face water shortages if we keep functioning as we do today.
Yet, blueprints for change exist. In 2015, the UN, together with governments, businesses and civil society, established the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, to act as a compass for sustainable life today and for future generations. The SDGs point to critical targets that we must reach by 2030 to achieve timely and impactful change.
To reach critical SDG thresholds by 2030, what we do now is crucial. The decade between 2020 and 2030 is dubbed the “Decade of Action”. And when it comes to ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, we need to achieve profound change in a short time.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the worldwide guidelines to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all, focusing on the end of poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequality, spurring economic growth, tackling climate change and preserving oceans and forests. These goals drive long-term regulations by governments, investments by the financial community, human resources incentives, and business value initiatives to instill positive change, reduce resource consumption, and reach net-zero carbon emissions.
Dassault Systèmes is committed to achieve these goals not only by making changes to ourselves but enabling the change with our customers and partners. Through the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, we are accelerating sustainable innovation by nurturing innovative start-ups whose objectives are to make positive impact to the environment, society and economy.
The Living Heart Project aims to provide personalized patient care by advancing the development of safe and effective cardiovascular products and treatments.
EEL Energy is developing an undulating membrane inspired by bio-mimicry - the motion made by fish swimming – to generate electricity from marine or river currents.
AgreenCulture’s mission is to design a relevant solution for transforming costly farming ecology into affordable alternatives. Robotics offers a relevant solution to meet this goal.
Although the technology for virtual twins has been maturing for years and is well implement in certain sectors, its potential remains largely untapped.
The Dassault Systèmes and Accenture study notes that virtual twin technologies have been used in the development of 85% of the world’s electric vehicles and more than 75% of global wind power. 90% of the top drug and healthcare laboratories also use this technology.
Yet there is much room for increased adoption. In 2020, the global virtual twin market was worth an estimated $5.4 billion. It was projected to reach a 36% compound annual rate of growth between 2020 and 2025.
Achieving the UN Global Goals by 2030 will require radically more sustainable ways of managing products and services over their entire lifecycle, from design to use and end-of-life.
Virtual twins are part of the solution. In a whitepaper co-authored by Accenture and Dassault Systèmes, we found that virtual twins provide an untapped opportunity to help companies unlock combined benefits of $1.3 trillion of economic value and 7.5 Gt CO2e emissions reductions by 2030.
The industry of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) is enormous. It adds up to two thirds of international trade volumes and as much as 10% of the United States GDP. It is also tied to many of the challenges we face in achieving sustainable consumption and production, as it is closely interlinked with other industries ranging from agriculture to chemicals that often take a heavy toll on the planet.
For example, the study notes that agriculture (including crop and livestock production), forestry and land use account for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and as of 2016, almost 14% of the world’s food is lost from production before even reaching the retail level, according to the UN.
Deep change in how we produce and consume is necessary and can help us move much closer to sustainability.
Virtual twin technology can tackle the industry’s challenges in a number of ways. It can limit resource and energy use, helping design materials, production chains and product lifecycles that are more sustainable. And design is vital. According to data from the European Commission, 80% of a product’s environmental impact is linked to design decisions.
The Dassault Systèmes and Accenture study looked at the case of sustainable product development, supported by lifecycle assessment data, with 3D modeling and simulation tools.
In this case, virtual twins allow producers to establish and embed sustainability goals in the design of their products. By modeling the resource needs and environmental impact of their design decisions, producers can reduce the cost of product development, the use of raw materials and ultimately the product’s embedded carbon footprint.
The study estimates this technology can unlock savings of $131 billion in raw material usage costs, $6 billion in product development costs and achieve a reduction of 281 metric tons of CO2 emissions as a result of improved decision-making informed by virtual twins.
From our toothbrushes, to the computers or smartphones displaying this text, to the international space station, plastic is ubiquitous in our lives, but the material is relatively new. Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic, was only discovered in 1907.
Today, the amount of plastic we produce has exploded. About 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and since the 1950s, researchers estimate that we have produced about 8.3 billion tonnes of the material.
A majority of the plastic we produce is used only once, and so it ends up in landfills, dumps, in waterways and in the ocean. Once it reaches the natural environment, plastic can remain intact for centuries. In water, it can disintegrate into small particles, known as microplastics, which act as pollutants for marine life, and eventually make their way into our food sources.
Regulators in many countries have started tackling this issue, by banning certain kinds of single-use plastics, for example; but beyond tackling pollution, the broader challenge plastic underscores is the lack of sustainability inherent to our means of production and consumption. The choices we make when designing, producing, stocking, distributing, buying and deposing of consumer goods all have an impact on the environment.